Eco-detecting better water quality

Chris Edwards interviewed Founder and CEO, Jefferson Harcourt for the May/June issue of Inside Water.

Collecting and sharing environmental data, particularly water quality, is complex. Achieving this in real time can help organisations make better decisions. Here’s how.

The movement from detecting inorganic explosives to real time water quality monitoring is, by most measures, unusual. Jefferson Harcourt, Grey Innovation Group Executive Chairman and Founder/CEO of Eco Detection, finds it fascinating.

“My journey with water and innovation began about 10 years ago, following the development of GreyScan for detecting inorganic explosives,” said Harcourt. “Witnessing the transformative impact of our fieldable capillary zone electrophoresis (CZE) technology on addressing critical security challenges inspired me to explore its potential in other domains, particularly safeguarding our precious water resources.”

He was initially drawn to the water industry because of its critical importance to saving lives and the environment. He also realised the industry’s potential for innovation and technological advancement.

“Like most of us, I assumed we carefully monitored water and, therefore, what ends up in our rivers and oceans,” Harcourt said. “When I learned that we take a sample every one month or even six months, I was shocked. I think most people would be. We knew we could make a huge difference here; our mission was very clear.”

Standing out with Eco Detection

When looking at the collection of water quality samples, many would think of traditional ways, like two people in a rowboat collecting water samples using jam jars and periodic sampling methods. Harcourt is convinced that this is an outdated and inefficient methodology, particularly in the face of the rapidly evolving water management landscape.

“It’s usual for manual sampling to typically miss the peak events that do the damage, and the data, when you get it, is a week old,” he said. “Manual sampling processes are labour-intensive, time-consuming, and prone to human error, hindering timely decision-making and effective resource allocation. As we embrace technological innovation and digital transformation in the water industry, it’s evident that the future lies in real-time monitoring solutions like Eco Detection’s Ion-Q+.”

One challenge is providing continuous, accurate, and actionable data. Eco Detection’s Ion-Q+ does this by providing nutrient levels, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen (DO), and other water quality parameters. Having this data empowers stakeholders to take a proactive approach to managing water resources. It also safeguards public health and supports environmental sustainability goals.

“Eco Detection has put the lab in the field; no one else has done this,” said Harcourt. “Whilst probes and other types of field measurement technology exist, they don’t always work and cannot replace grab sampling and laboratory analysis to the regulator’s satisfaction. We are now being accepted by regulatory authorities in several applications as a replacement to laboratory data, thereby reducing operating costs and improving customer outcomes.”

Ion-Q+ and how it works

Harcourt points to the direct ionic measurement technology embedded into the Ion-Q+. There is no spectral absorption or inferred measurement. The Ion-Q+ integrates the original CZE technology, which separates target analytes injected into a capillary.

“Different ionic species travel at different speeds inside the capillary,” he said. “That is because of each ionic species’ individual physical and chemical properties. They form distinct groups as they move through the capillary. These groups pass the detector, which determines the number of ions and provides quantitative concentration measurements for ionic species.”

Accurately tuning the capillary and electrolyte chemistry has enabled Eco Detection to have highly sensitive technology. Eco Detection also provides end-to-end data service for water quality measurements. It provides end users, operators, and decision-makers with the critical information to manage their waterways and assets effectively.

“The Ion-Q+ is a fully autonomous, self-calibrated and multiparameter system,” Harcourt said. “It can operate anywhere with solar and satellite options. We offer up to 12 months of continuous operation without servicing.”

But what is it picking up? The Ion-Q+ can analyse levels of nitrite, fluoride phosphate, chloride, sulphate, carbonate, ammonium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, lithium, and ferrous iron. It can also be deployed with additional sensors for other water quality parameters, giving the system a comprehensive view of the water source.

Where is it being used?

Eco Detection’s Ion-Q+ devices are deployed with water utilities, local councils, industrial facilities, and environmental monitoring stations across Australia. For example, several devices are installed in rivers that flow into the Greater Barrier Reef.

“Water utilities face the constant challenge of servicing an increasing population with ageing wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) infrastructure,” said Harcourt. “In doing so, they must continue reducing the environmental impact. The discharge of total inorganic nitrogen (TIN) and dissolved reactive phosphorous (DRP) from WWTPs into inland waterways is allowed under license from the local regulatory Environment Protection Authority (EPA).”

The Eco Detection Ion-Q+ system provides frequent in-situ monitoring, in near real time, for WWTP operators to take immediate action. Therefore, facility managers can actively control the inherent risks of exceeding the discharge license limits, associated penalties and, ultimately, pollution of waterways and ecosystems. Eco Detection now provides a practical field solution to monitor upstream and downstream of the WWTP discharge point, providing TIN and DRP in near real-time, with data fed directly into plant supervisory, control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems for immediate action when required.

The future for Ion-Q+

Harcourt believes that the future is positive. As a technology entrepreneur, he could not ignore the pressing challenges facing global water resources. Having witnessed the devastating impact of water-related crises has spurred him into action.

“I am fortunate to have been able to leverage technology and innovation and find a way to channel my passion for water into meaningful and tangible solutions,” he said. “In the coming years, I hope to advance Eco Detection’s technology further. We want to expand its deployment into new markets, like the United Kingdom. Ideally, we will strengthen partnerships with water utilities, regulatory agencies, and industry stakeholders.”

Harcourt and Eco Detection aim to enhance public awareness and engagement on water quality issues by driving innovation and promoting sustainable water management practices.

“We want to foster a collective commitment to preserving our most vital resource for future generations.”