SQM supports water treatment startup with initial $1.27m investment

22nd March 2024 By: Darren Parker - Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

SQM supports water treatment startup with initial $1.27m investment

UK-based engineering tech startup Salinity Solutions has secured a $1.27-million initial investment from battery-grade lithium chemicals producer Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile’s (SQM’s) corporate venture capital arm SQM Lithium Ventures to fund the next stage of its growth.

SQM Lithium Ventures, in return, will take ownership of a minority stake in the company, with the option to acquire additional equity in the future. 

Salinity Solutions developed its novel batch reverse osmosis water treatment technology to significantly reduce the environmental impact of water treatment. It is the first of its kind globally to be manufactured commercially.

“SQM’s investment will help us accelerate Salinity’s growth and achieve our 2024 goals of increasing unit sales and securing our first licensing agreement. [Its] strategic interests in lithium and water, combined with [its] geographical reach from Chile to China, offer a perfect fit to support our ambitious growth plans,” says Salinity Solutions’ CEO Richard Bruges.

Salinity’s technology uses less energy, purifies a higher amount of wastewater, generates less waste and is more compact and portable than traditional reverse osmosis systems.

The first of Salinity Solutions' five registered patents has been approved in the European Union (EU), China and the US. 

Since launching in 2021, Salinity Solutions has completed trials in multiple industries, including lithium mining, industrial and municipal wastewater, and food production. In addition, the company has developed a robust sales pipeline across multiple sectors and geographies.

The investment aligns with SQM’s efforts to improve efficiency and reduce its environmental impact as part of its sustainability goals. This includes reducing the use of groundwater by 40% by 2030; decreasing brine extraction in the Salar de Atacama, in Chile, by 20% in 2023 and 50% by 2030; and becoming carbon neutral in lithium production by 2030.

“SQM Lithium Ventures is investing in Salinity Solutions in hopes that the company, through its . . . technology, will be capable of scaling and making an impact across different industries and geographies. This marks our first investment in water, one of our core focus areas for investment along with lithium and electromobility.

“At SQM Lithium Ventures, we are always seeking to fund projects in cleantech, specifically water, to accelerate startups like this one. In doing this, we seek not only to scale the business, but also make an impact on the quality of life of multiple communities,” SQM Lithium Ventures director Angeles Romo says.

As part of its collaboration with SQM, the Salinity Solutions team will run a pilot project in the Salar de Atacama, with its team members based in Antofagasta and other locations in the north of Chile.

“Global water demand is set to double over the next five years. Water treatment consumes 4% of the world’s total electricity production and conventional reverse osmosis systems are energy intensive. Working with SQM, we can bring significant energy and water savings to the mining sector and many other industries, in Chile and around the world,” Salinity Solutions’ co-founder and CTO Tim Naughton says.

Salinity Solutions was formed as a spin-off from the University of Birmingham in April 2021, following ten years of research and development at Aston University and University of Birmingham under the supervision of Professor Philip Davies.

Founder Tim Naughton secured an Innovate UK iCURE grant and seed investment from investment company Clean Engineering, followed by two oversubscribed crowdfunding campaigns on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube.

Existing investors, including the University of Birmingham, have added to this investment round over the last six months, investing over £960 000 alongside SQM, providing a total of £1.96-million in new funding for the company.

“It is a great pleasure to join the water treatment business through this international partnership. With our experience in running innovation and scaling up and building cutting edge industrial projects, SQM can support Salinity to be successful in reaching its technical and commercial goals,” SQM’s Lithium Process China director Pablo Melipillan says. He will join the board of Salinity Solutions.