Chlorine is the cheapest primary disinfectant available on the market today. It has an unlimited shelf life and is readily available. However, the product is toxic. An exposure to more than four parts per million damages lungs and while the transport and handling is thoroughly regulated, accidents do happen. Unfortunately, chlorine is not effective against giardia (a parasite that causes intestinal infection) and cryptosporidium (a microscopic parasite that causes diarrhea). Today these are the two most common causes of water transmitted diseases in North America. Recent studies have demonstrated that the use of chlorine creates two by-products (THM and HAA) which are known causes of cancer. While ozone and ultraviolet filters have complemented chlorine to reduce the health risks, their cost is considerably higher than chlorine, and thus out of reach for the millions of small treatment facilities that will have to be built in the near future.
Matías Sjögren Raab graduated as an industrial civil engineer from the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, and complemented his science-based training with an MBA from the same school. His exposure to agro-industrial projects brought him in touch with earthworms. Just like the first exposure to this animal inspired Tom Szaky to build up his TerraCycle company (Case 52), Matías realized that he was face to face with an innovation that would permit him get out of the traditional cost trap of public works. After due study, he concluded that a biofilter made from earthworms would ideally suit the development of small scale water treatment plants. He would not only eliminating the need for chlorine, activated carbon, flocculating agents, he saw an opportunity to generate additional revenues as well. This is one of the core principles of The Blue Economy.
Matías went on to create Biofiltro Ltda, a Chilean-based provider of water treatment systems. He tested aerobic water treatment systems based on an filter of worms which cleanse the water without the creation of any sludge. Better even, the bio-sludge produced by traditional treatment systems can be processed on site. Since the production of biogas from this slurry is only commercially viable when operated at large scale, the earthworm-based biofilter positions itself as an ideal alternative for small scale facilities which represent the bulk of demand in the world. The company went on to obtain the 2011 Green Start-Up of the year award offered by Fundación Chile and UDD Ventures, the venture capital arm of the private Universidad del Desarrollo.