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Eco-Sistemi: a start-up that purifies water with recycled bottle caps

Established in Pavia, this start-up company came to Trentino thanks to Seed Money. Its first customer is a brewery in Novara.

An environmentally friendly water purification system doesn’t need high-technology solutions, it just needs recycled plastic bottle caps. «We buy the bottle caps from public benefit organizations that collect them in schools and local charities. In this way we support different charitable projects» explains Dario Savini, CEO of Eco-Sistemi. This young company, established in 2013 as an academic spin-off of the University of Pavia, is one of the innovative start-up companies brought to Trentino thanks to the financial support provided by Seed Money and the availability of «safe» spaces and support services provided by Trentino Sviluppo. Few months ago, the company opened its offices in the green spaces of Progetto Manifattura.

The first customer? A brewery in Novara

The idea developed in the laboratories of the University of Pavia that led to the creation of a company in Trentino is brilliant, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective: replace the costly pre-printed plastic cards used to grow bacterial colonies for the purification of water with simple recycled plastic bottle caps.

A full-functioning prototype is already in use at the water purification plant of Rovereto, in a locality called Navicello. Eco-Sistemi is working also in an international building site in Puglia that will lead to the creation of a phytodepuration system.

However, the first real customer of Eco-Sistemi is the Hordeum farm brewery of Novara, where the start-up company installed a system that removes carbon and nitrogen from the wastewater produced during beer brewing.

This system is called RCBR, an acronym that stands for Rotating Cell Biofilm Reactor. This system can treat up to 5.5 cubic meters of wastewater per day, an amount that corresponds to the quantity of wastewater produced by a small village of 300 people.

«The recycled plastic bottle caps weigh more than 430 kg - explains Dario Savini - and they are contained in a stainless steel drum that rotates very slowly in a tank where the water that needs to be treated is stored. While rotating in the water, the bottle caps develop a thin bacterial bio-film, a colony of micro-organisms that remove the organic carbon by oxidizing ammonia to nitrates».

Benefits in the energy costs and for the environment

The data coming from the plant in Novara are excellent. «We recorded a very low energy consumption, around 1.2-1.5 kW/h - explains Savini - which represents a 10% share of the average energy consumption of a traditional plant. The data confirm those recorded by the prototype built in Rovereto».

The bio-film formation takes one week and after three weeks of treatment the organic content of the wastewater is significantly reduced, as well as the amount of suspended solids, nitrogen in its different forms, and phosphorus. Once the wastewater meets the standards set by the law, it is possible to release it into the environment.

Even the impact on the landscape is limited: while traditional water purification plants can use a surface of 20-25 square meters, the machine devised by Eco-Sistemi is 3.30 meters long and 1.30 meters large.

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The support of Seed Money. The goal: 25 functioning machines by 2015

Eco-Sistemi is a technology start-up company supported by the Seed Money-ERDF fund and it involves four partners; two biologists, one chemist, and one technician. Their names are Sergio Modenese (chairman), Dario Savini (CEO), Anna Occhipinti (advisor) and Aniello Esposito (production chief). Besides, the start-up has on its payroll also two young chemical engineers.

Savini explains: «Thanks to the support of Seed Money, we were able to finance the prototype, apply for different patents, and hire a marketing company to define our selling strategy, create our website, and design our advertising material».

Eco-Sistemi has already received important recognition for its work by winning the award «Premio Start Cup Milano Lombardia» in 2012 and the award «Premio Ambiente Euregio» in 2013.

«We expect that by the end of 2015 we will be able to sell 25 machines, but we would like to double this number in 2016 and then reach the threshold of one million euros in gross operating margin» says Dario Savini.

And soon, besides the recycled plastic bottle caps for water purification, the start-up company will start offering also bio-pools…