Waukesha Startup Sets Out to Clean Up Dirty Water

Mar 27, 2017

One of the startups selected for this year's The Water Council's BREW Accelerator program was on display last week outside the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District headquarters.

Menomonee River water was being sucked up into the CORNCOB demonstration model – picture a water heater tipped on its side. A gleaming metal barrel connected to pipes and valves is being monitored by a sophisticated computer system.

Inside 60 discs covered with a membrane are spinning away and cleaning the water that enters the system.

CORNCOB on its national demonstration tour of its pilot machine Alfie.
Credit CORNCOB

CORNCOB co-creator Dick Davie explains the demo unit has been put to the test in locations around the country, cleaning everything from winery waste water to discharge water from a laundry.

“Now we’re back here doing this on river water to demonstrate we can take river water and discharge drinkable water, potable water,” Davie said

The mobile unit can process about 5 gallons per minute. He said their largest system, which is about six feet in diameter and over 20 feet long, can handle 400,000 to 500,000 gallons a day.

Visitors from the China National Petroleum Company.
Credit Susan Bence

There weren’t just a bunch of local water technology geeks checking out the CORNCOB. A contingency from the China National Petroleum Company are carefully inspecting the unit. 

“It’s because one of the projects we’ve done was is to take fracking mud and be able to extract and clean the water, so the water can be reintroduced into the fracking process.” CORNCOB consultant Ed Panelli explained. “So fundamentally, we’re recycling the water and keeping it clean.”

CORNCOB's other co-creator Douglas Hwang was beaming – he’s been working toward this technology for years.

“It’s been thirty years since I’ve been thinking, and our team has been working on it. But I think we have the answer now,” Hwang said.

Hwang realizes challenges lay ahead as they scale from pilot to commercial size, but he plans to set up manufacturing facilities in Wisconsin.

CORNCOB co-inventor and president Douglas Hwang.
Credit Susan Bence

“We have lined up manufacturing in Green Bay, Brookfield, New Berlin and will all of their capacity we can really grow to a $100 million company when they produce our stuff full time.” Hwang added, “We have those all lined up and we are ready to go.”

There’s a sprightly mirth about this man. It’s also evident in why he named the new company CORNCOB.

Hwang explained – hoisting a Yorkshire terrier sized model – and sliding out its cylinder. “Raise your hand if you can see corncob,” Hwang said.

Even if the shape doesn’t scream corncob to you, I’m guessing you’d still raise your hand.

Credit CORNCOB, Inc.