KOKOMO, Ind. — What happens to your… business when you flush the toilet? How about when you take out the trash? Waste management is and has been an issue that’s plagued city planners and scientists alike for centuries, but a central Indiana company could have the solution. 

Kokomo’s own and Howard County-based Merrell Bros. has joined forces with startup 374WATER to change the way the world sees waste through a new invention. 

“Waste that is currently considered as a liability will actually be the resource of tomorrow, and that’s what’s really cool about what we do at 374WATER,” 374WATER co-founder and CEO Kobe Nagar said. “We’re starting to have that ability to kind of… push the reset button. It used to be waste, now it’s actually a valuable resource.”

Waste management has plagued people for centuries. Improper practices have historically lead to cholera outbreaks killing presidents James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor in the United States and continue to cause issues throughout developing countries today. 

“We see this technology, especially around water to go across the globe. It’s not just a local problem that you have somewhere… it’s really global and it touches us as human beings anywhere,” Nagar said. “Everywhere in the world you have the same problems, and this is a solution that is above politics, above borders, it can go anywhere.”

That’s how 374WATER got its start – from funding from the Gates Foundation at Duke University to address sanitation in developing countries. The team at 374WATER then realized the applications for their device could be much greater than simply sanitizing human waste.

“Our invention has numerous applications: animal waste, space exploration, cruise ships, refugee camps, waste water treatment plants, food production and so on… everywhere where there’s concentrated organic waste there’s potential application for our technology,” 374WATER co-founder and Head of Technology Marc Deshusses, Ph.D. said.

A view of what’s inside each of 374WATER’s devices.

It’s all about temperature and pressure. The device, a seemingly endless array of whirring tubes and piping currently confined to a shipping container, converts liquids into a fourth state of matter – supercritical. We all know about the phases of H2O: ice, liquid water and steam. When the liquid being treated reaches 374 degrees Celsius inside the machine it is infused with air, creating a reaction that eliminates all potentially toxic chemicals – generating energy along the way and depositing clean water behind. 

From left to right, each beaker is filled with liquid at different stages of 374WATER’s process.

If the process sounds complicated, Dr. Seshusses can explain in simpler terms. 

“It’s all about temperature and pressure,” Dr. Seshusses said. “Sometimes I call it the pressure cooker on steroids. We take any liquid waste and we heat it, we pressurize it and we add air.”

By taking any type of organic waste or synthetic material you can think of, the machine converts it into clean water and energy and in turn churns out minerals. Those minerals can then be used as a fertilizer, essentially creating a circle around waste – instead of just pilling it into a landfill or putting it into an incinerator and polluting the environment further.

Nagar and the 374WATER team recently rang the NASDAQ closing bell on Wall Street (SCWO) and has a first client lined up: Orange County, California. The county has purchased a number of devices to help purify their waste on the West coast, a move Nagar says will be followed closely by others. 

“It’s a game changer for the industry. We see it as a real pivotal moment of not just doing the minimum that is needed to treat waste. This is taking it a step further,” Nagar said. “The reason I founded the company is… I really realized that if we don’t do and step up as leaders in the industry – nobody else will do it. So I’m doing it for my kids, I’m doing it for the next generation, so they will have clean drinking water… because the practices of the past are just not good enough.”