Kokomo-based Merrell Bros. is creating a new division of its company and adding more workers to produce and install new cleantech units that were developed through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dustin Smith, the company’s chief business development officer, said Merrell Bros. approached the cleantech company 374Water a couple years ago after learning their Nix 1 unit could remove “forever” chemicals and transform sludge into clean water.
The unit was constructed at Duke University after it won a grant from the Gates’ foundation as part of the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.” The development of the Nix 1 eventually led to the formation of 374Water.
Now, Merrell Bros. has contracted with the company to build, fabricate, ship and install the units at facilities all around the U.S., with a long-term goal of installing them in developing countries with polluted water sources.
Smith said Merrell Bros., a nationwide biosolids management company, will start building the first prototype of the unit later this year. Next spring, the company anticipates a substantial expansion at its Kokomo facilities, including constructing a 15,000-square-foot building to house its new cleantech division. The “sky’s the limit” on hiring more workers for the new division.
“It just depends on how fast these units start to deploy and take over the market,” Smith said. “We will scale up to meet that demand, but it’s tough to project that right now.”
The units are large — measuring 40 feet long, 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall — and carry out a new process called supercritical water oxidation. The process can break down and remove “forever” chemicals, such as PFOS and PFAS, and it turns 99.9% of all waste into clean water and carbon dioxide in seconds, according to 374Water. These chemicals are a problem in certain parts of the country and are used in things like nonstick products, stain and water repellents, paint and cleaning products.
The new technology has the potential to fundamentally change how water and wastewater treatment plants operate, Smith said.
Once production is going full steam, the company should be able to construct one of the units in less than three months, Smith said, which can then be installed in all kinds of waste-treatment facilities, with the first unit will likely going to a municipal treatment plant.
Merrell Bros. has also purchased a substantial amount of stock in 374Water, making it the largest single investor in the company.
Smith said the immediate plan is to commercialize the units in the U.S. Once mass production hits its stride and costs come down on the units, Merrell Bros. hopes to also make them for developing countries.
“We’ve been leaning into this pretty heavily, and we think it has the ability to change the industry and then hopefully change lives in the developing world,” he said. “It definitely has potential to be something more than just Merrell Bros.”