Start-up recognized for clean energy

By MaryCate Most

Every day, resources such as water, food and energy are wasted in countries throughout the world. Electrical computer engineering Professor Gary Eden and Adjunct Associate Professor Sung-Jin Park have developed micro-technology to reduce this waste and one day provide cleaner sources of water, food and energy to developing nations.

“It is a small thing, but it can be useful to everyone’s health,” Park said. “That is our main point and idea for this company.”

Their start-up, EP Purification, was recognized by the Clean Energy Trust as a finalist in the annual Clean Energy Challenge, which will be held April 3 and award start-ups for protecting the environment, Park said.

Park and Eden, along with more than 20 other scientists and engineers in the team, have developed a microchip that uses microplasma technology to harness the power of the ozone. The small concentration of ozone is then able to dissociate particles, essentially, cleaning the water supply.

Using the ozone dissociation ability to clean clothes decreases the amounts of water and detergent necessary, which has a domino effect when it comes to environmental conservation. Senior Scientist at EP Purification Jin Hoon Cho said he believes that EP Purification’s ozone studies will be beneficial to many research projects in the future.

“The ozone technology for disinfection and purifying water in current market is still based on few decades of plasma technology,” Cho said. “I always think that advances in science and technology have to bring many benefits to the world in which we live.”

Thirty-four percent of hot water is used to wash clothes in the U.S. and heating water makes up 9.1 percent of U.S. energy consumption. That amount of energy is the equivalent of using 29,625 billion gallons of gasoline, Park said.

But with the microplasma and ozone-generating technology that Park, Eden and their team have built, water usage is reduced by 30 to 40 percent, detergent usage by 10 to 20 percent and energy consumption by 90 percent, Park said.

This microchip can be incorporated into a washing machine, and then clean clothes within 30 seconds time. For that reason, Park and Eden have been looking into partnerships with hotels and nursing homes, such as Champaign’s Swann Special Care Center, which dedicate many resources to keeping linens clean.

However, this commercial use of their microchip is not the only purpose that they had in mind. The start-up will also help address problems such as poor quality sanitation in developing nations by quickly and efficiently cleaning the water supply or by keeping food safe to eat for a longer stretch of time.

“We are very proud that the product we develop can save significant energy in several applications,” said EP Purification Design Engineer Min Hwan Kim. “And (it) also helps many lives who suffer from a worse quality of drinking water.”

Already, a company in South Korea, which is where Park is originally from, has partnered with EP Purification to look into using the technology to keep food from spoiling. A short term exposure to the ozone can clean the food in the same way it cleans the water.

Although Park said he is excited and hopeful of the possibility of being named a Clean Energy Challenge winner, he and Eden are satisfied that they have made it this far in the competition and have received more awareness and support for their company in the meantime.

“We can work with a wide range of clients groups and provide many generic services,” Cho said. “The same can be true of the third world. I’m expecting something magical will happen to EP Purification.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected] and  @marycate_most.