By Ed Knueve, MWS, et al.
The US EPA building in Cincinnati, OH is home to one of the largest R&D facilities for water in the country. Its website states that “collaborating with US EPA gives you a chance to leverage this resource for your own technology to achieve shared goals. US EPA Cincinnati includes over 500,000 square feet of facility space, more than 180 laboratories and about 1,050 federal and contract personnel (www.epa.gov).”
Cristian Chis, inventor of quantum disinfection, had often dreamed about collaboration with the US EPA. He had no idea, however, of where to begin. That prospect represented a uniquely American opportunity, the chance to study this technology in a setting devoted to science and forward-thinking ideas. In addition, the US represented, to Chis, a dream to which many people across the globe aspire: to establish a business and settle in America. From his laboratory in France, with its staid business practices and glacial growth prospects, Chis knew that in order to grow a business based on his newly discovered technology, he must find a way to get to the United States.
In autumn 2013, Daniel Thomas was visiting family in France and was introduced to Chis as a successful American businessman who might help him move the technology to the US and start a business there. A skeptic by nature, Thomas was at first wary of the technology and Chis’ claims of electron attraction as a quantum method of disinfection based on microchip and photocatalysis principles. Thomas promised, however, to test the small media beads and get back to Chis. Upon returning to his home in Raleigh, NC, he took the media to a contact who was a wastewater plant operator in Wilmington, with instructions to run raw water through the media and report the results. After three days, Thomas called the operator and quizzed him on the bacterial reduction performance. “Man, this stuff is killing everything instantly. Do you have any more?” he said.
New technologies are hard to implement by nature. Geoffrey Moore, in his groundbreaking book Crossing the Chasm, identifies the difficulties in convincing early adopters of the merits of new technology. “We had something that worked in the lab really well and early field tests were promising,” Thomas said. “But in order to get from zero to one faster, we needed a recognized name that would give weight to our claims. We knew that validation from a respected third party would lead to companies willing to test our product within their own systems.”
Moving from the lab to small-scale production (crossing the chasm) was the next step for the fledgling enterprise. Using contacts gained through wastewater partners, Thomas was introduced to Roy Haught and Jim Goodrich, of the US EPA and Department of Homeland Security, respectively. The goal with the US EPA was simple: test the product, report on its effectiveness against bacteria and then implement a long-term testing solution. Chis, excited at the thought of finally working with US EPA, was overjoyed at the news. While the US EPA was making arrangements for testing, Chis secured an O-1 visa and relocated to Raleigh with his young family. “For me, America was always the place to come if you are serious about business,” Chis said. “To make it in America is a dream for anyone. I came here and immediately felt the freedom. The roads are bigger, the sky seems bigger and the possibilities are much bigger here too.”
On March 30, 2015, US EPA’s Cincinnati office conducted testing of the quantum disinfection media and issued a comprehensive report. It found that results claimed in Claire’s laboratory setting were on par with the agency’s own findings for microbiological reduction. US EPA offered to enter a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in order to further evaluate the media.
From enterprise to company
Chis and Thomas were excited to work with the US EPA to further study the quantum disinfection technology. They knew, however, that an enormous amount of work lay ahead: field trials, lab work and funding. Chis and Thomas returned to Raleigh and settled on a large warehouse near the airport that would serve as their lab, production site and offices. Chis mapped out the floor plan and then set about designing and purchasing the equipment with which to make the media. Thomas focused on a long-term strategy of gaining NSF 42 certification, while at the same time marketing the disruptive technology to key, early adopters who would be interested in testing the product themselves, as well as designing systems around its strengths.
On June 23, 2015, Claire Technologies was officially formed, with the idea to launch a product that would change the water industry. Chis and Thomas decided to focus on three markets: POE, POU and RO. What followed was a long year of travel and meeting with interested parties. “We knew we couldn’t officially launch yet because we were still building out production,” Thomas said. “So we went in as advocates and educators for this technology.” In the beginning, Chis remembers, the receptions were skeptical. “It was me and Daniel on one side of the table and 20 scientists from a company’s R&D on the other side; they needed convincing.” Chis laid out the evidence at each meeting, delving into scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images, excitation of the surface under electron influence, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) photographs and even cation readings at the surface. Eventually, he would win them over.
Thomas and Chis realized that lab results were one thing, but field pilots were another. To that end, they set about designing systems for drinking water. Their first field install was on a contaminated well in Colquitt, GA and four more followed. The duo also worked with the Byrajju Foundation in India on village drinking water systems. Finally, they began testing on RO systems. During this time, they settled on a name for the new product: Silecte,which Thomas promptly trademarked. Finally, after eight months of testing across various markets, Chis and Thomas were ready to introduce quantum disinfection technology to the world.
About the authors
Ed Knueve has been in the water treatment industry since 1981, specializing in problem-water treatment. He started his career working for his father’s business, Knueve and Sons, in Kalida, OH. Knueve’s extensive work with ozone eventually led him to Clearwater Tech LLC, where he worked as an ozone application specialist for over a decade. In 2015, he joined US Water Systems as an applications engineer. In 2016, Knueve co-Founded (and is President of) Silecte Distributors, LLC. Educated as a mechanical engineer, he was among the first to receive the Water Quality Association’s CWS-VI (now MWS) certification.
Cristian Chis, PhD, is from Romania and was educated in France, where he developed a passion for nanotechnologies, especially for active nanosurfaces. He was the co-Founder of Cardpoolsas in Ales, France and is the co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Claire Technologies, Inc. Chis has multiple PhDs, an engineering degree, is also a research engineer, international and French patent holder and has been published too many times to count. He now lives in Raleigh, NC, where he continues his research.
Daniel Thomas is CEO of Claire Technologies, LLC of Raleigh, NC. After graduation from North Carolina State University, he started a construction company in Raleigh that focused on structural concrete repair. In 2012, Thomas and Chis co-founded Claire-Tech, the manufacturer of Silecte Quantum Disinfection Media.