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Green Tech Startup Safely Removes Toxins From Waterways

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August 26, 2020

Washington Maritime Blue, the Port of Seattle, and WeWork Labs have partnered to launch Washington’s first maritime accelerator to help maritime companies innovate and grow. New ideas in one of the most traditional sectors in Washington are critical for a thriving economy and to protect our planet, precious natural resources, and ocean life. 

This series showcases the 11 companies participating in the inaugural cohort. These companies worked for four months out of WeWork Labs’ Seattle location with mentors and advisers to help navigate challenges. In April, the startups shared their innovative solutions in a Virtual Showcase.

ecoSPEARS, based in Orlando, Florida, is a cleantech company that utilizes environmental remediation technologies invested at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to permanently remove and destroy cancer-causing toxins from our land and waterways. We sat down with ecoSPEARS’ Executive Vice President R. Ian Doromal to learn about ecoSPEARS’ safe, sustainable, and cost-effective green cleanup technology, the startup’s experience with the Maritime Accelerator program, and what’s next for ecoSPEARS.  

ecoSPEARS

Tell me about ecoSPEARS and how it got started.

A family friend, Serg Albino and I, co-founded ecoSPEARS in the Fall of 2017. We had a great opportunity to obtain an exclusive license from NASA for a clean water technology called Sorbent Polymer Extraction and Remediation System (SPEARS). SPEARS consists of a series of spikes that are pressed into a scalable mat-liner that gets pressed into the sediment layer of the waterway. SPEARS absorb toxins like a sponge into the interior of the SPEARS. We’ve developed the industry’s first green cleanup solution for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxin-contaminated sediment, soil, and groundwater. Today, ecoSPEARS imagines a world where every human being has access to clean water, clean food, and clean air.

ecoSPEARS founders Serg Albino and R. Ian Doramal

What motivates clients to use ecoSPEARS technology?

Our clients, who include both private corporations and public entities, need to get rid of legacy pollutants, but this is often a cost-prohibitive process. Until now, the only way to remove toxic chemicals from the soil has been to dig the soil out and haul it to the local incinerator or landfill, both of which can emit an incredible amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Our goal is to create sustainable and green remediation technologies that will protect human health and our clients’ bottom-line. ecoSPEARS generates up to 90 percent less emissions at up to 25 percent cost savings compared to other environmental remediation alternatives. We do all the work onsite where we extract and destroy the toxins through our technology. Our clients don’t have to truck the hazardous material to a landfill, where it could leach out and get into the local groundwater and drinking water. 

What problem does ecoSPEARS solve?

Between 2018 and 2019, we participated in the Blue Economy Incubator program through the Port of San Diego, and discovered that we could provide solutions for ports through our safe cleanup process, which can be done without dredging and destroying native or sensitive wildlife habitats. If an organism starts ingesting the toxins that have collected into the sediment, it biomagnifies up the food chain, from plankton and shrimp up to salmon and the food we, as humans, love to eat. Species like orcas and polar bears eat the contaminated marine life such as salmon, and we have seen a declining population of mammals and other marine species due to these legacy toxins in their food and environment. Through our sustainable clean water technologies, ecoSPEARS is able to eliminate toxins that harm wildlife and cause destruction to habitats while also providing more people with access to clean water, food, and air.

ecospears

What was your goal or expectation when applying for the Maritime Blue Accelerator program?

We were hoping to get insights to the market, to ports, and to the state of Washington. As an early stage company, we were mindful of where we put our time and focus. In this space there is an incredible number of stakeholders and leadership committed to the future of maritime. It was awesome to see  leaders prioritize clean tech in Washington state. This gave us the confidence to focus our efforts on growing the Washington state market. As a result of our experience in the program, we are looking to potentially open a satellite office in the Seattle or Tacoma area sometime in the future. The accelerator allowed us to perform market research and build connections into that ecosystem. Introductions are key and we met a lot of great people through the inaugural cohort. It helped solve the major problem of the need to collaborate and build partnerships.

Why is bringing Seattle's startup culture and entrepreneurial spirit into the maritime industry so important? 

The average age of workers in the maritime sector is 50. What happens when these workers begin to retire? We need to start looking at how to fill that gap. The maritime sector is going to grow, and we’ll be fighting for talent to fill jobs in the industry. Innovation opens up new doors and opportunities to attract new talent. Showing diverse opportunities outside the tech world that exist in the maritime industry is key; we have to show young people that there is a ton of impact and good that can be done by introducing sustainability and innovation to the maritime industry. The maritime industry has a great story to tell that’s not necessarily being presented today. The accelerator was a step in bridging that path and bringing in new and excited youth who want to join the movement.

ecoSPEARS in action

Why is it so important for the maritime industry to think sustainably?

Approximately 94 percent of our planet is covered in water, and only four percent of that water is drinkable. It’s vital that all of us help to protect this precious resource. Innovation in this area has been lacking and our clean tech can remove toxins from the water and food we eat and improve the health of fish. The Washington maritime industry understands the how important it is to save our orcas and other marine wildlife. We’d hate to see animals go extinct when we can use innovative technology in maritime to help solve the problem. One of our goals at ecoSPEARS is to get our technology into the Puget Sound and in the Duwamish River to eliminate problems caused by legacy toxins for the benefit of the maritime industry and future generations

What is next for ecoSPEARS?

We are entering the pilot stage of deploying our clean technologies on the field. We’re deploying our technology at the Port of San Diego, Spokane River, Washington D.C, Sweden, and the state of Hawaii. We hope to have additional projects coming soon in Washington State before rolling out full-scale applications of our technologies to clean land and waterways worldwide.

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