EP Purification is an early-stage startup that spun out of MNTL research faculty member J. Gary Eden’s laboratory in 2010. The company, which is located in the U of I’s EnterpriseWorks incubator facility, manufactures novel ozone-generating systems for water and air purification.
According to Eden, EP Purification’s generators are smaller, lighter, and more efficient than conventional ozone-generating technology, which dates back to the late 19th century. “The old technology required high voltages that produced the equivalent of lightning bolts inside oxygen gas,” said Eden, the Gilmore Family Endowed Professor in Electrical & Computer Engineering.
In contrast, the EP Purification system consists of an array of parallel microchannels, fabricated in a nanoporous aluminum oxide, that trap a plasma (ionized gas). When oxygen (O2) is introduced into one end of the channels, it interacts with the plasma to produce ozone (O3).
“Our microchannels are the size of a microchip—about as thick as a few human hairs,” said Sung-Jin Park, ECE adjunct associate professor and company cofounder. “We have a sophisticated sensor inside the system so we can precisely control how much ozone we create for each application.”
Ozone, Eden explained, is the Jekyll and Hyde of chemistry, which makes it an ideal purifying agent. “Ozone, 03, is very aggressive, attacking organics, dirt, pathogens, and viruses, but then after about 20 minutes at atmospheric pressure, it destroys itself and reverts back to stable and benign O2.”
Already, the company has sold one of its reactors to a large chemical manufacturing plant in SE Asia, which is using the product in a pilot project to evaluate the treatment of its wastewater with ozone. “Ozone is the strongest oxidizer and disinfectant available commercially,” said Eden. “It has a powerful effect on organic waste and can reduce it to simpler form.”
Other customers include aquaculture farms, which can increase yields dramatically, and commercial laundries, which Eden predicts could cut their usage of chlorine bleach in half with the EP Purification system. Eventually, Eden and Park expect to reach the consumer washing machine market.
“The energy savings for households would be enormous,” said Eden, noting that the average American family spends 30% of its monthly energy bill on heating water for laundry. “Hot water accelerates the interaction of chlorine with soil on clothes, but ozone is so much more chemically reactive that it does not require the elevated water temperature—the water can be ice cold and ozone still cleans clothes.”
In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded EP Purification $300,000 through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to increase the ozone-producing capacity of its generators 10 fold. In addition, the company won the $100,000 Wells Fargo Grand Prize for Clean Energy Entrepreneurship.
The company also has several initiatives underway to introduce its reactors to third world countries, where access to clean, safe drinking water is a major health issue. EP Purification generators will be installed in Haiti this summer by a team of University of Illinois students for the purpose of providing clean water to schools and homes on a section of the island. “There are many applications for our ozone generator,” said Park. “We are going after them one by one, identifying a couple of applications each year.”
Eden and Park are also the co-founders of Eden Park Illumination, a fast-growing lighting technology company in Champaign, IL, that designs and manufactures soft-glow lamps for the professional cinematography and photography industries.