ProtectPipe sells a drainpipe care system that keeps the pipes in order with a microbe solution. The microbiotechnology company ProtectPipe, which was founded last year, claims they can postpone the need for repiping projects by as much decades. The company produces a solution that contains live strains of microbes that break down organic waste in drainpipes.
The company’s founder Klas Alfthan started to inquire into the reasons behind the piping renovation boom in Finland when his housing co-operative’s piping had to be redone. According to Alfthan, the reason is in the embrittling effect of the decomposing waste people flush down their pipes. As organic waste starts to decompose, it produces hydrogen sulfide compounds that embrittle the top of the pipe.
The amount of organic waste is increased by energy-efficient dishwashers and toilets that push waste down the drain with lesser amounts of even colder water. The microbe solution can, according to Alfthan, break down grease, starch, protein and cellulose, and the hydrogen sulfide they produce.
The company’s main target groups are housing co-operatives and detached house owners. ProtectPipe sells a drain treatment system to apartment building dwellers as a service deal, which costs around one euro per square meter a year. For restaurants and industrial kitchens the company installs a pump, which automatically dispenses the suitable amount of the solution into the pipeline.
“It is important for the clients to see that our solution really works in practice and not just in laboratory conditions”, says Hannu Keränen, who jumped in from Artist Exchange to lead ProtectPipe.
The company runs three month long pilot projects with e.g. restaurants, where the pipes and grease traps are photographed before and after the use of the microbe solution. In the worst cases the hardened surface of the grease trap would have required a chainsaw to break it open. According to Keränen, the microbes can eat the pipes and grease traps clean of grease in a way that is impossible for enzymes, which are problematic to the water treatment process in other ways as well.
“After the pilot we go together with the restaurant owner to examine and smell the drains and grease traps. 90% of the customers with whom we have run a pilot have ended up signing up for the annual plan. Many grease traps have met the definition criteria of an environmental violation, because the hardened grease has prevented the alarm system from working”, says Keränen.
The use of microbes to treat drainpipes is not a new invention, but the company has alongside microbiologists at the University of Helsinki developed a strain that can endure challenging environments, as well as vast changes in temperatures and pH-values.
The researching and commercialization of microbes is a niche operation”, says Keränen.
The company just raised 850.000 euros in a crowd funding round, and the company is planning to fund e.g. a study with the product at the University of Helsinki. The solution is being tested in a study in the Finnish Defence Forces’ drainpipes at Santahamina, and at Tuusula Waterworks.
“At this point the biggest hindrance for sales is the customer’s lack of knowledge. With the help of research we can more widely communicate that our microbial strains survive and extend the pipes’ lifespan with up to 40 years”, says Keränen.
According to Alfthan the operation is easy to scale, so increasing sales is not an issue. The company’s goal is to reach revenue of a million euros this year. The company is doubling the number of salespeople to ten in the coming months.
ProtectPipe is continuing its product development and has plans to expand to six countries in 1,5 years.
“Our focus is to expand to the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, from which the wastewaters ending up in the sea are coming from.
The company is going to get listed on the Helsinki stock exchange within five years.