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Aquacolor Sensors successfully threw caution to the wind

For Aquacolor Sensors, the time seems ripe for a definitive breakthrough. The company developed a plug-and-play solution that makes it easier to accurately measure the quality of surface water, drinking water and wastewater. Just what the market needs right now.

It didn't come easy to Aquacolor Sensors. The path of the company from Oudehorne, Friesland, was one of bumps and detours. But now suddenly everything seems to be falling into place. 'Actually, everything we have built up over the years in terms of knowledge, experience and sensors comes together in one product: the Aquacolor EcoSniffer,' says Mateo Mayer. 'One standard that allows you to plug in everything you need to measure water quality.' More on that later. First, a brief sketch of what preceded it.

With poultry farmer Frank Akkerman, Mateo, a chemical engineer and PhD polymer technologist, founded Aquacolor Sensors in 2015. The company develops and produces smart sensors to measure and monitor the quality and safety of (drinking) water. Continuous and real-time, without having to take a sample first. In fact, Aquacolor Sensors' sensors monitor water quality inline.

Spectrophotometric sensors

'We are developing so-called spectrophotometric sensors,' Mateo explains. 'These are sensors that allow you to use light to measure water quality. In a nutshell: you send light through one end of a transparent tube and on the other end you measure the intensity of the light. If you do that for different wavelengths of light, you can say something about the quality of surface water, drinking water and wastewater.'

Interest from the market was there immediately and, some nine years later, is still there. Obviously prompted by a growing attention to the quality and safety of (drinking) water. Especially micropollutants, such as medicine residues, microplastics and crop protection agents, can have undesirable effects on public health and the environment.

Different market segments

In recent years, Aquacolor Sensors developed numerous products that were used, under a variety of conditions, in different market segments. In greenhouse horticulture, sewage treatment, fish farms, swimming pools and in data center cooling towers, for example. The sensors were also used during the 2016 European Football Championship in France to ensure good drinking water quality in and around the stadiums.

Great projects with excellent results and satisfied clients. Only: the sensors are usually only used in one project. And yes, that makes it difficult to realize a structural turnover. A turnover with a repeat factor. 'Moreover, each individual project places very specific requirements on a sensor,' Mateo states. 'That means that with the next order you often have to start from scratch again. Simply because the customer then has completely different requirements again. Then you have to ask yourself whether you still want to do such projects. We came to the conclusion that we no longer wanted to.

product Aquacolor Sensors

Portuguese drinking water company

Things definitely changed after a request from Wetsus. The knowledge center for sustainable water technology, with which Aquacolor Sensors regularly cooperates, was participating in a European project and informed that a Portuguese drinking water company was looking for a spectrophotometric sensor. But a product that could also take standard measurements such as pH, conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen and redox potential. At the same time, it had to be possible to automatically store the raw data. Whether Aquacolor Sensors could perhaps provide such a solution.

At that time, however, Aquacolor Sensors could only offer an individual sensor. While the Portuguese drinking water company actually asked for a nearly complete measurement system in which everything needed was readily available. 'That got us thinking,' Mateo reflects. 'We realized that there had to be many more potential clients with a similar desire. So parties who do not want to purchase different sensors from different suppliers, but rather seek a total solution. From that thought, the Aquacolor EcoSniffer was eventually born.'

Standard computer housing

You can think of the Aquacolor EcoSniffer as a kind of cabinet in which several sensors are located. The sensors can be connected to each other and are controlled from one point. All previously mentioned functionalities for measuring water quality are standard on the device, as well as, of course, the light sensors of Aquacolor Sensors.

'Everything we have developed in terms of software and electronics over the past few years, we have put into a standard computer housing, Mateo clarified. 'Literally the housing that is also used for gaming computers. The great thing is: you can plug the sensors into your computer with a USB cable. In fact, the device has several USB inputs on the back. Once a desired sensor is plugged in, the software reads out all the data and then stores the raw data directly. After that, the user has all the freedom to do with the data what he or she has in mind.'

Greater added value

Aquacolor Sensors' activities are thus shifting from smaller projects to primarily large projects. Not least because in this way the company can be of even greater added value to clients.

'It's usually not enough just to stick a thermometer in the water,' Mateo stresses. 'You also have to be able to help clients make the right choices and explain after a measurement what, if anything, is going on. Therein also lies largely our strength. We are able to accurately assess what is needed to measure a particular water quality as optimally as possible. In addition, we develop all software and electronics ourselves. This means that we are flexible and can switch quickly in response to client wishes.'

Aquacolor Sensors successfully threw caution to the wind
Left MAteo Mayer and right frank akkerman

Growing interest

Already a number of units of the Aquacolor EcoSniffer have been sold to Wetsus and the Portuguese drinking water company. The new product is also enjoying growing interest elsewhere. Very surprisingly, Mateo does not find this very surprising, he says. 'In the past, water quality was often calculated using models. Nowadays there is a particular need for hard measurements. What is the total amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in surface water? And especially: where exactly does it come from? Because of the multitude of measurement possibilities, the Aquacolor EcoSniffer is able to notice subtle differences in water quality.'

European market

Mateo is looking ahead with a good feeling. Several companies are involved in the aforementioned European project, for example. There is a good chance, he says, that beautiful collaborations will result. Moreover, we have a number of interesting projects with Wetsus in the pipeline. We focus mainly on the EU. That has everything to do with the Water Framework Directive. It defines criteria that governments must meet to achieve clean and ecologically healthy surface water and groundwater. These are the same for the entire EU. So if you develop something in the area of surface water that is very valuable for the Netherlands, you actually have the entire European market to deal with. Basically, we see that happening now with the Aquacolor EcoSniffer in the European project.'