Global problem, local solution: Serial founder’s new startup is helping to expand access to fresh water

By Riley Kaminer

We need fresh water to live, yet over a billion people on planet earth lack access to it. Overall, 2.7 billion deal with water scarcity for at least one month of the year. While two thirds of the world is covered by water, only 3% of it is fresh water.

Technology that currently exists to desalinate water – turn salt water into fresh water – is prohibitively expensive. Working to change that is Boca Raton-based entrepreneur James Farese, who is also founder and CEO of tele-behavioral healthcare startup Reachlink.

Farese’s new venture, Bond Energy, commercializes the extraction of elemental resources from sea water. Selling these elements to make desalination more economically viable.

“Desalination is not profitable because of the energy cost,” Farese told Refresh Miami. “We want to capture these elements to offset the energy costs related to desalination, which we think will make desalination a more viable option. That way, we could rely on a more limitless supply of water: the ocean.”

The origins of Bond Energy stem from a research report from Stanford University scientists that laid out the process for capturing lithium out of ocean water. That instantly resonated with Farese, as he considered the importance of lithium for battery production.

He then applied to 35 Mules, FPL’s in-house innovation hub – “We applied with just an idea and a concept,” Farese said – and was accepted. 

That’s when Farese got to work. The Bond Energy team pivoted from lithium to rubidium, an element that was easier to capture and had more of a commercial market. They developed a prototype filter through which ocean water is passed, capturing the rubidium.

“Really what we’re doing is we’re capturing desalination brine. When you do desalination, there are two outputs,” Farese explained. “You have the potable water, the freshwater output, and then you have this super concentrated ocean water output.”

“So we’re essentially taking the waste product, which is super concentrated ocean water that occurs when you’re doing desalination, and further processing that to capture those elements out before it’s discharged.”

Having already proved the technology’s efficacy at the prototype stage, Farese and team are now working on how to scale the technology. It is still early days, but Farese said he plans to leverage large, mobile shipping containers. “That might be easier to deploy than permitting and building a massive plant that would require a lot of resources.”

The market for fresh water is vast and includes green hydrogen producers and governments working on groundwater recharge efforts. Meanwhile, rubidium is very popular for photosensitive applications, particularly in the medical field.

So far, the only funds fuelling Bond Energy has been the non-dilutive grant from 35 Mules, from which Bond Energy just graduated. Farese signaled that the team is currently putting together a pre-seed round as well as applying to some DoD and SBIR grants. The company currently has four full-time employees.

“I like working on really big problems,” said Farese, “so I’m really excited about coming up with a solution to provide water more economically and more environmentally sustainably – and create value during that process.”

Cohort of 35Mules, FPL’s in-house innovation hub, that includes James Farese.

READ MORE IN REFRESH MIAMI:

Riley Kaminer