The 2018 finals of Imagine Chemistry recently took place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ten teams were selected to continue collaborating with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals or one of our partners. We asked the winners to share their thoughts on Imagine Chemistry and working with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. Here we speak with Water Knight.

“The interactions with the experts and our mentor have been wonderful. Normally we couldn’t achieve this much in 6 months or a year; but here we get access to all the relevant people in one place and can really tap into the vast knowledge base that is available.” 

Team name: Water Knight
Team members: Rahul Dahule and Ranjeet Utikar
Location: The Netherlands
Mentor: Paulus Dijkgraaf
Challenge area: Wastewater-free chemical sites
Award won: Joint development agreement 

Water Knight is a Netherlands-based startup specializing in the design of vortex cavitation devices for wastewater treatment applications. Their VoDCa reactors are used to intensify wastewater treatment and can help break down difficult to crack organics and reduce COD and BOD – without the need for additional chemicals.

Water Knight co-founders Rahul Dahule and Ranjeet Utikar met as undergrads in India, worked in the same lab, and both studied at Twente in the Netherlands, but it wasn’t until Ranjeet had moved across the world to teach at Curtin University in Australia that they finally decided to team up and start Water Knight. In the video below, shot midway through the Imagine Chemistry finals, they give a bit of background into their project and what they wanted to get out of being there.

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Though the team was happy to get an award, they could have left happy without one. Ranjeet says, “When we went to the finals, we felt we were already winners. We saw that all of the finalists were very different companies, so we were not really competitors. In fact, during the event we met up with the other wastewater-focused companies and we found out that we were all complementary to each other, and have even discussed how we might integrate our technologies.”

That wasn’t the only pleasant surprise the team experienced. Ranjeet explains, “I was prepared for Imagine Chemistry to be like other startup competitions, but the event changed my perspective completely. Here was this company being quite open about what they are trying to do and honest in saying, ‘We have these problems, and we think the solution will probably come from outside AkzoNobel. We would like to adopt that early and we would like to develop that solution along with you. We're not interested in taking your ideas and buying you out. We want to make you a partner in that success.’ I think that was very unique.”

He continues, “Trust is a word that was used very widely during the event. It was emphasized over and over again that we’re all equal. Your company is smaller, but you’ll be treated equally with regards to the intellectual input you bring. That attitude helped build a lot of trust between us and AkzoNobel. And now because that trust has been placed in us, we will work in supercharged mode to deliver.”

The two have a clear vision of how they’d like to see their technology evolve. As Rahul sees it, “The future is all about sustainability, and we think water efficiency will be a critical issue.” Ranjeet adds, “If we can treat water where it is generated in a process, we could see a very tight integration between water used in a process and the process chemistry itself. I think our cavitation technology could enable this integration and allow us to make chemicals in a very efficient way.”

For now, the two have already started working with our Polymer Chemistry business unit, and they have plans to try out their technology on different samples from different BUs and see where it can make an impact. Stay tuned to find out how their collaboration progresses!