Jonatan was just 16 years old when he invented his remarkably simple yet efficient technique. This same method is the one that the startup Helios Innovations still uses today. Jonatan grew up in Halmstad, where, during the summers, it was often prohibited to irrigate. The need to spare drinking water made Jonatan curious to see if he could figure out a way of turning seawater into clean water. 

–He developed a technique that allowed him to remove the salt from seawater, says Johanna Gillberg, COO and co-founder of Helios. Based on his purifying water technique, Jonatan started Helios in 2019.

–To make it possible to desalinate water, Jonatan created his first industrial plant, says Johanna. It turned out to work well. However, he soon realized that there were no real commercial benefits for the industries. Drinking water is too cheap.

From Salt Water to Liquid Waste

–However, industries produce a lot of liquid waste, says Johanna. We decided to try to see if we could clean it using the desalination technique. Hence, we took it to the lab, tried – and it worked.

In 2022, the team behind Helios started cleaning process water, water that is a biproduct of many processes, such as in manufacturing industries.

–Since then, we’ve installed our first industrial unit for treating liquid waste, says Johanna. But we had to scrap it. It did not work the way we wanted. However, we gathered a lot of knowledge and learnings from testing this first platform, which was useful when building the second version.

The second plant was installed at Stena Recycling in Halmstad, whose business is to recycle and refine products and waste materials from industry and society at large.

–Hence, we could add to their treatment of liquid waste.

This was Helios’ first commercial unit.

–The facility treats 6 000 m3 of liquid waste a year. We added a smaller one, that treats 3000 m3, Johanna explains. The two platforms are placed at Stena’s water treatment plant, a facility designed to treat and purify water from various sources.

Purifying Faster and at a Lower Cost

Helios mostly works with customers in the south of Sweden.

–We can work with all kinds of industries that produce liquid waste as well as waste heat, says Johanna.

When dealing with their liquid waste, industries can choose to send a truck to a destruction facility. Or they can choose to invest a considerable amount (millions) in a water treatment plant.

–However, apart from being a huge investment, such plants are expensive to run, requiring large amounts of heat and electricity, Johanna explains.

With Helios’ evaporation technique, they can utilize low-temperature waste heat already produced at the industrial site, which lowers the operational cost. The waste heat is a biproduct, therefore it is free and can be used to treat an industry’s wastewater instead of being cooled off in a cooling tower.

– To us, it is a no-brainer to clean water. We offer water treatment by leasing out our units with a full-service deal, and we charge per m3 that is treated she explains.

With our technology, industries save money, and the environment is spared from co-emissions that are usually generated by a huge number of trucks used to transport liquid waste.

–Instead of sending thirty trucks with waste to destruction, an industry could send one when they use our solution, Johanna says. All in all, we reduce the carbon footprint of these industries.

A More Efficient Way of Purifying

–Evaporation is a process that has been used for a long time to purify liquid waste, says Johanna. Traditionally, there have been/are different ways of going about evaporation. Either you increase the pressure so that the water evaporates at a lower temperature or use a high temperature to get it to evaporate. However, as these require either a lot of electricity or high temperatures it is comes with a price tag as well as putting pressure on the district heating system.

Helios’ new evaporation technology uses water’s ability to evaporate at low temperatures when a large surface area is exposed, to concentrate industrial process fluids and liquid hazardous waste.

–Heated process water is heated with low-temperature waste heat before flowing through cellulose blocks, she says. These blocks expose a lot of surface area.  An airflow through the blocks evaporates a few percent of the water. The steam is condensed on cold water lines.

The result: a pure distillate

What is unique and new about the Helios solution is that it improves energy efficiency, reduces emissions, and lowers energy costs.

A Block of Cellulose Does the Trick

–At the core of our technique is thus a cellulose block, she says. We pour water on it, and it helps evaporate water at low temperatures.

Jonatan came to think of the block when he was looking for solutions to his desalination challenge. He saw the cellulose blocks in a documentary, as it is typically used to manage the humidity of the air in greenhouses.

–He realized he could use these blocks, says Johanna. The technique he figured out is simple and based on a simple theory.

An additional benefit of Helios’ idea, is that the cleaned water can go straight back into the industries:

–Industries use huge amounts of drinking water, says Johanna. Many of the processes that they use water for do not require drinking water, but water that is clean enough. Instead of releasing the water, we can turn it back into the industries.

Helios targets all industries that produce liquid hazardous waste and that generate waste heat. Examples of such industries are chemical manufacturing, metal processing and fabrication, car manufacturing, galvanization industries, pharmaceutical, and pulp and paper Industry.

What happens next?

–We just closed our second round. Now, our focus is on closing deals and installing units, says Johanna. This means organizing and building a solid and stable organization, that is ready to grow.

The team is also recruiting and looking for service technicians and technical project managers.

–Hiring a full-time CFO is also an upcoming key investment, she says.

Johanna is originally an analytical chemist and has experience working in labs, but these days her role is to oversee operations. What she is looking forward to the most right now is:
–Building and growing our company. I am also eager to create a team feeling – a sense of going somewhere together.

She is also looking forward to creating a process for sales and to structure and organize in general.

–We will stay on in the Ideon Start-Up Hub, albeit remotely, she says. It is useful to have a springboard to bounce organizational questions and issues regularly.


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