The ability to assist small to medium enterprises (SMEs) find research-based solutions to their needs is growing at Griffith University.

Following a recent cold food measurement and distribution innovation, Griffith scientists have assisted a local water filtration company with a cutting-edge sensing system.

Aquarius Technologies is a Brisbane-based water filtration and purification company. Their market is consumers of wastewater treatment, cooling water treatment, swimming pool disinfection and potable water treatment. The need to monitor and filter scale, within their filters, is vital to this company’s future and the people’s health who rely on their systems.

Griffith researchers, Ehsan Eftekhari and Dr Qin Li from Queensland Micro and Nanoparticle Centre (QMNC) are experts in the use of nano-particles that act as sensors in water filters. Dr Li has significant experience in developing novel detection and sensing systems for chemical and biochemical sensing.

CSIRO’s SME Connect program specialises in partnering SMEs with problems to Universities with solutions. Dr Li and Aquarius had been working together informally for some time before applying together for CSIRO’s assistance.

Sergio Koulakov, General Manager of Aquarius, saw the possibility for genuine innovation is his sector.

“During discussions with Qin and Ehsan we came to a mutual understanding of what they can achieve as researchers and what Aquarius needs to achieve as a commercial entity. The difference in approaches was initially a major issue for us, but we were able to overcome this.”

Through a 20-week contract in 2016 supported by an AusIndustry Research Connections grant, Dr Li and Mr Eftekhari started developing a new sensing system that integrated into Aquarius’ established products.

At the start of 2017 Aquarius and Griffith received a Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF) STEMᶧ Business Fellowship grant through CSIRO SME Connect that co-funded Dr Eftekhari to work with Aquarius as a full-time researcher for three years and would allow him to further develop the system. The resulting new scale inhibiting system is a fully automated real-time sensing system.

“Working with Aquarius was a fantastic challenge,” said Dr Li. “SME’s don’t have the same money or the time to dip into serious R&D so when projects like this come up the pressure is on to deliver a significant improvement on their present situation.”

“The brief from Aquarius was that they needed a reliable way to detect micro levels of corrosion inhibitors in the cooling tower, for optimizing chemical dosage, extending equipment life span and minimizing environmental impact.

“It was just one of the things they wanted to do and I was impressed by the vision of such a local SME. It has been really rewarding,” she said.

The result was the TheUniQcontroller, specifically designed to incorporate online corrosion and inhibitor measurements and controls, thereby providing an industry-leading comprehensivesolution to all challenges of cooling tower water treatment systems.

“The best part of our co-operation is in the different approaches to the same challenge. Aquarius needs to keep an eye on profit, which generally means looking at the existing market. Griffith’s approach is to develop an innovative solution, which requires time and money,” said Mr Koulakov.

“In this case we see big potential in development of this innovation as it’s far above what’s in the existing market (both hardware and chemicals). It is a top model, which competes with best competitors’ models around the world.

“As a GM of the company I can say that we would never have entered into this project without the SIEF funding awarded through the CSIRO, there were no guarantees and the outputs of that project are long-term. Without support of CSIRO Aquarius would not be able to support this level of investment.

Jason Barkla, SME Business Manager at CSIRO SME Connect was pleased to see such advanced technology transfer assisting business at the SME level.

“CSIRO is eager to see the benefits of publicly funded research assisting our vital SME sector. As an important engine of our economy Australia needs its technology-based SMEs to be leaders in their market,” he said.

“Our Universities have a long tradition of innovation and SIEF and CSIRO’s SME Connect are delighted that Griffith and Aquarius could work together to develop such an innovative product in such a short time-frame.”

UniQ was launched in late 2017 and through the first half of 2018 has passed all early-stage testing. In time the UniQ system should result in more robust, longer-lasting filters that reduce costs to consumers and better protect the health of end users.