With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Richard Seline is the executive director and senior advisor at AccelerateH2O, an organization aimed at promoting water-related innovation technology development. The organization recently entered into a partnership with the Texas Desalination Association to launch the Texas Water Innovation Clearinghouse, an online platform that serves as a way for researchers, entrepreneurs and industries to connect and collaborate. The site launched this week.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: First of all, can you tell me about this partnership and how it came to be? What do you hope to accomplish?
Richard Seline: With the founding of Accelerate H2O this past December, one of the objectives of our leadership was to, and remains to, inform a number of partnerships and collaborations with the state's major water and industry associations, as they are the representatives of what is a $9 billion-plus water technology market. In our plans and strategies — including a number of conversations over the past year around the state with the water associations, industry, regional economic development-related sectors — what we found was there was a need for a clearinghouse that would connect the state to the interested individuals, whether it's research or new technologies or other forms of partnership. That was the formation of the clearinghouse. The Texas (Desalination) Association, because desal has become one of the high priorities, stepped forward and said, "we would like to become one of the first organizations to leverage the clearinghouse platform for purposes of engaging with the brackish and seawater community."
Trib+Water: What will the clearinghouse actually look like? Who exactly will have access to it?
Seline: Version 2.0 was launched this past week. It is open to all interested in water technology. It is made available for free to individuals representing industry, agriculture, residential and the public utilities seeking to find who is working on what activities, who has what resources to share and new technologies or results of those technologies. The platform was established as truly a clearinghouse. All that has to happen is that individuals use this to register for the website and it opens up all of the tools and the communities we've established to host this type of engagement with the 18-plus universities, 46,000 water utilities, 5,000 medium to large scale corporate campuses and representatives in the farming and ranching and agricultural communities.
Trib+Water: And how are your membership numbers so far? Who is actually using this platform?
Seline: Right now, we did our initial data drive for the past 45 days and we invited initially 75 to 100 individuals to do a test ride. We are now just beginning to open this up to the statewide community at large. The userbase so far has been representatives of utilities, research institutions, entrepreneurs, investors who gave us an initial feedback of what they saw so far. Most importantly, it's still a project in development, meaning it is set up to use the framework and the platform to serve multiple interests and users.
What we did is we set up communities, and there are 10 to 12 in place right now, addressing what we define as grand challenges. These are technology areas that remain to be fully researched for new technologies to be applied or more collaboration to occur between industry and academia and utilities. But those communities are up now and what we are beginning to do is populate those communities with profiles of individuals who we have found in doing our research are active participants in research or entrepreneurship or industry or technology. So for instance, we've identified an initial core of 145 leading researchers across all the campuses in Texas in a number of areas of water technology and we are just beginning now to start that process of inviting them in to participate. We have representatives from 26 to 30 regional and statewide engineering firms that have individuals with significant expertise in water technology and we'll invite them in. Our goal is to not replace any membership organization in any way, but to use this as a platform that's supportive of providing a network and a relationship in every area of water technology that's most applicable for water right now.
Trib+Water: Why is it necessary to promote cross-sector collaboration when it comes to solving water problems?
Seline: Simple. We're a very large state that goes from seawater to desert to mountains. We have thousands of different types of industries and sectors and as a result of it being so large, we are highly fragmented. What we found was few people know who is working on what new technologies or who is applying some of those technologies to solve some of the state's biggest challenges in water. Therefore, there was a desire from what we heard in the marketplace to at least create a way to connect each other. That's number one.
Number two, simply, is that this is not about only research from the universities nor is it about companies promoting their products. It really is about finding expertise and experience to focus immediately on some of the greatest challenges in water that our state faces and really letting innovation and entrepreneurship unfold. The platform, for this moment, serves that purpose for connecting people, assets and resources.
Trib+Water: You mentioned that you identified a need for this in Texas, so there are no other similar programs in the state? What about nationally? Where did you get the template for this sort of major platform?
Seline: This is a customization of a platform that was a spin out from Procter & Gamble who realized a decade ago that they as a global company never could completely know what talents and capabilities they had internal to their company, much less who was outside of their company that they could collaborate with. So we licensed and are customizing that platform that originally came out of Procter & Gamble and there are others around the United States that are using this similar type of platform including the Milwaukee water council, which is an excellent example of regional collaboration and engagement for water innovation. We also know there are four other states that are looking at what we're doing to determine if there is something they should do similar in their own states. Nationally, we know that this is underway. In Texas, there is a lot of different sources of information and ways to connect people, but typically they're in stovepipes and silos. This is intentional to cut across those silos and stovepipes to address a lot of multidisciplinary and multi-industry needs and interests.
Let me use an example. We have six billion barrels of water that have been discharged as a result of our success in conventional and unconventional oil and gas production. We know that there are a lot of technologies, expertise and experience in Texas and around the world that can help us recover 20, 30 percent of that water for potential use in other industries or even in irrigation, but what we don't know is who has been working on new technologies both within the academic campuses, within industry or even who may be an inventor or an entrepreneur in Texas or connected outside of Texas that may be able to help solve and create a solution. This platform provides a way to connect those dots in Texas and beyond Texas.
Trib+Water: And where is the funding coming for this project?
Seline: We're a 501(c)3 that has received an initial grant from the state of Texas, a multi-year funding challenge grant from Frost Bank as well as seed funding from the Texas Research and Technology Foundation. That's what's gotten us to this point in time and obviously we'll be talking and looking to others to partner with us on resources and sustainability of not just the clearinghouse but some of the projects that are coming off of the work at the clearinghouse.
Trib+Water: I know another project you're working on is Innovative Demonstration Hubs. Could you explain what those are and what role they could serve in collaboration?
Seline: The Innovative Demonstration Hubs provide a unique platform for demonstrating proven and growth stage technologies that need to be in the field on large scale level of water, sometimes adjacent to an operating facility or adjacent to a certain kind of water and industry. What we found was that there are a lot of pilot projects underway and have been underway throughout the state, but it's become increasingly difficult to find, seamlessly and simply, large scale demonstration sites for which we, AccelerateH2O, have been asked to find the locations, figure out what's the equipment and the levels and sources of water that are being used for global technology companies seeking to enter into the Texas market. But they have to be demonstrated for permitting purposes or because investors or procurement decision makers need to see these technologies in the field.
I think the opportunity simply is that we've created a tool for increasing collaboration and what AccelerateH2o's mission and goal has been is to remove any barriers and limitations to innovating water in Texas and this is one way to reduce a barrier and limitation and that is by finding ways to connect, inform and engage thousands of Texans and a lot of folks around the world who want to connect with Texas to solve major water challenges.