Moleaer has created a novel aeration system that is vastly more effective than traditional models. It injects air in the form of miniscule bubbles only 100 nanometers in size—thousands of times smaller than a grain of salt—that, unlike larger bubbles, spread throughout a water body and do not float to the surface. This allows water to provide higher levels of oxygen to plants’ roots, to better penetrate soil, to break apart biofilms and algae within irrigation systems, and to oxidize pathogens in the water. In this interview, Moleaer CEO Nick Dyner tells us more about this impressive technology and its uses in the irrigation field.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Nick Dyner: I’ve been in the water industry for almost 15 years. I got into the industry through General Electric (GE). I was moving from business to business within GE, and around 2005, I landed in its water business. I fell in love with the industry. I was primarily focused on GE’s desalination business, which produced reverse osmosis (RO) membrane systems for industries like power; semiconductor production; and drinking water for hotels, resorts, and island municipalities.
In 2010, I joined a startup called NanoH2O, and my wife and I moved to Los Angeles. NanoH2O was a technology company focused on developing a new type of thin-film RO membrane for seawater desalination. I was fortunate enough to be the first commercial hire, and I eventually led the sales marketing/app engineering/tech service organization and commercialized the company’s product globally. I got a chance to do business in 92 countries. It was an incredible experience.
In 2014, LG Chem acquired NanoH2O, with successful outcomes for all parties involved. I stayed with the company for about 2½ years to help LG during the transition, teach it about the water business, and help it grow globally. It now has the second-biggest market share in the RO membrane field, which is fantastic to see.
In late 2016, as I was coming to the end of my time at LG, I was lucky to meet the cofounders of a company called Moleaer. I got interested in the potential of nanobubbles for various industries, particularly for the treatment of industrial process water and surface water. In early 2017, I and a few others invested in the company, and I joined the team to help grow the business. Now, 4½ years later, we’ve got over 1,000 nanobubble systems installed globally. Irrigation water is our biggest market, and surface water, including lakes and ponds, is our second biggest. The business has been growing rapidly ever since. I am fortunate to get to be Moleaer’s CEO, a role I have held since the company’s inception.
Irrigation Leader: Where are you from originally?
Nick Dyner: I was born in England to a Dutch mother and a Brazilian father. I moved to New Jersey when I was 6, and I spent pretty much my entire life there until I moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago.
Irrigation Leader: Tell us about the history of Moleaer.
Nick Dyner: Moleaer was started by Bruce Shelton, who is our chief technical officer, and Warren Russell, our chief commercial officer. They had previously worked together informally on projects in which Warren was selling his microbiology for wastewater treatment and Bruce was building custom water treatment equipment for various municipal and industrial uses. Warren came across a project in the Middle East in which the client was using his biology in a shallow, temporary lagoon in a high-temperature environment. When water temperatures rise, it becomes challenging to maintain dissolved oxygen (DO) levels that are high enough to allow the microbiology to do its job. Also, it is challenging to use conventional aeration systems to effectively dissolve oxygen into shallow water, because traditional aeration systems only dissolve about 1–2 percent of the oxygen they release per foot of water. If you’ve got a 4‑to 5‑foot-deep lagoon, you’re only going to get around 5–10 percent of the oxygen transferring into the water before the bubbles reach the surface. It’s really inefficient. Moreover, hotter water holds less oxygen. Faced with those obstacles, Warren reached out to Bruce to see if he could develop a way to make very small bubbles that would take longer to rise to the surface.
While developing the technology, they realized that it was behaving completely differently from what they expected. The oxygen levels were rising rapidly and staying high for long periods of time, even after the system was shut off. This suggested that the bubbles weren’t leaving the body of water. Warren and Bruce filed patents on the technology so that they could explore it further, and they eventually started a business together. They formally incorporated Moleaer in August 2016. Soon, through third-party research and instrumentation, they realized that the bubbles they were producing were on a nano scale. I joined Moleaer after we funded the company in January 2017. In June 2017, we launched our first product, a nanobubble generator with a rate of 200 gallons a minute with a pump designed to focus on wastewater.
Irrigation Leader: Is your company based in the United States?
Nick Dyner: Yes, we are based in California. We design and manufacture all our products in our assembly facility, which is 15 minutes south of Los Angeles International Airport. We use only our own patented, proprietary technology, and all our systems are designed in the United States.
Irrigation Leader: How does the technology work?
Nick Dyner: When you inject air or oxygen into water, you form bubbles. As I mentioned before, the bubbles rise, and typically, they dissolve at a rate of only 1–2 percent per foot of water. The bubbles from our system dissolve at a rate of more than 85 percent per foot of water because the vast majority of the gas we’re injecting is in the form of 100‑nanometer bubbles. These gas nanoparticles lack the buoyancy to come to the surface and pop, so releasing them in water is like blowing smoke into a room. They dissolve everywhere throughout the body of water, from the bottom to the surface.
Because we all came from a water/wastewater background, we targeted that market first. Over the course of 6–9 months, as people were hearing about our product’s value proposition, we began to look at additional industries that were interested in oxygenating water more efficiently, including horticulture, surface water, and aquaculture. We started to expand into those markets. Today, more than three-quarters of our business is in industries that have nothing to do with wastewater, including agricultural irrigation; algae and aquatic weed control in lakes, ponds, and canals; fish and shrimp farms; and even oil, gas, and mining. Today, we have 42 employees, primarily based in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and the United States, and we’re now entering Spain.
Irrigation Leader: How small are the nanobubbles?
Nick Dyner: A 100‑nanometer bubble is 2,500 times smaller than a grain of salt. It’s about the size of a virus. At that scale, you can’t see these bubbles, no matter how high a concentration we put into the water. We put between 500 million and 1 billion nanobubbles into each milliliter of water. Even at that scale, you cannot see these bubbles without an instrument. We use a laser particle-tracking analyzer called a NanoSight to detect them.
Irrigation Leader: Tell us about how your technology works with irrigation and its advantages.
Nick Dyner: Irrigation makes up more than 40 percent of our business today. We have about 450 systems installed in irrigation systems—everything from small greenhouses to outdoor specialty crop farms that use drip irrigation. Our customers typically install our system to treat either their storage water tanks or ponds or to add oxygen nanobubbles to their irrigation make-up water, to which they also add fertilizers or other nutrients. Our nanobubbles become part of the irrigation water, which is then sent down a drip irrigation system, a nutrient-film-technique gutter in a greenhouse, or a deep horticultural pool in a hydroponic growing environment.
If a customer installs our system into a pond, lake, or canal, there are typically three core components: a pump, which recirculates water through the core technology; the core technology, which is a passive device with no moving parts that diffuses compressed air or compressed oxygen into flowing water; and a third device that provides the compressed gas, such as an air compressor or an oxygen generator. As the water and gas flow into our core technology, we form the nanobubbles and dissolve the gas incredibly efficiently. Then, the water goes back to its destination. Many people refer to it as an umbilical cord or a kidney. The system is easy to install. It involves two pipes:
one screened intake pipe and one discharge pipe, which sends the water back, enriched with nanobubbles.
Several things then happen inside the body of water. First, the oxygen levels throughout the tank or pond rise, particularly near the sediment. It’s hard to get oxygen to the sediment in a body of water, unlike the surface, which is constantly exchanging oxygen with the air. The reason that this is desirable is that if you create an aerobic environment near the sediment, you allow beneficial bacteria and probiotics to flourish and to outcompete algae and other nuisance weeds. You can also oxidize pathogens in that water. Nanobubbles provide a mild natural oxidant. It’s not as strong as bleach, chlorine, peroxide, or ozone, but it still has an oxidative property. As you start to raise the oxidative state of the water, you’re able to lyse algae cells and destroy algae toxins and other pathogens. Over time, this improves the overall aquatic health of the body of water.
Other customers use our technology to add pure oxygen bubbles to the water immediately before it goes into the irrigation system, elevating DO levels to 2–3 times what you can achieve with air and supersaturating the water with oxygen. That enables them to provide higher levels of oxygen to the plants’ roots; also, because our process reduces the surface tension of water, it penetrates the soil much better, which is particularly important with compact soils. We see that in the capillary action of the water. There are other benefits, too: We see biofilms and algae breaking apart in drip lines or other irrigation systems.
Irrigation Leader: Have you tested your technology in irrigation canals?
Nick Dyner: Not at a large scale yet, but there is no reason why an irrigation canal would behave differently from an irrigation lake or pond. Ultimately, we size our systems to the requirements of the body of water. Because the water in an irrigation canal is flowing, we ought to be able to eliminate the pump, making our system even more energy efficient and cost effective. Most of the systems we create today oxygenate water at a rate of 25–1,000 gallons a minute, but we’ve designed systems with capacities well in excess of 1,000 gallons a minute for specific projects. There’s no reason that we couldn’t effectively treat water in a large-scale irrigation canal.
Irrigation Leader: How long do your bubbles stay in the water column?
Nick Dyner: It depends on the quality of that water. For example, wastewater coming out of a brewery with a biological oxygen demand of 5,000 parts per million would consume the bubbles more rapidly than a clean water environment. Most surface water in irrigation canals or freshwater bodies has a lower organic load and oxygen demand, so bubbles would last in it for weeks or months.
Irrigation Leader: Can you estimate the costs of operation of your system?
Nick Dyner: The inputs are primarily energy, unless you use an external gas source from a bulk gas supplier. The energy demands of the system might range from 2–15 kilowatts, depending on its size.
Irrigation Leader: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your technology and its relationship with irrigation?
Nick Dyner: We routinely survey our customers to understand their experience and satisfaction with our technology. Our customers typically recoup their investments in 6–24 months, depending on the value of the crop they’re growing. Our irrigation customers are able to monetize the value that we’re creating quickly. With water becoming scarcer in the West, our principal focus as a company is to figure out how to allow our customers, particularly farmers, to use water more efficiently. As we start to see the benefits of using nanobubbles to reduce the surface tension of water so that it infiltrates soil more effectively, we are realizing that the benefits of our technology go beyond just water quality and plant health. Our technology can actually help address water supply and water use challenges.
Irrigation Leader: Are you interested in partnering with an irrigation district to test your technology on the reduction of required aquatic herbicide?
Nick Dyner: We have not started that type of effort with an irrigation district yet, but we are doing something similar for algae control in lakes and ponds in Florida. We’re looking at how our process can reduce the need for chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, and peroxides. I think that process can be translated effectively to irrigation, and we have somebody on the team who is looking closely at partnering with an irrigation district to start that effort.
Irrigation Leader: Do you have a message for irrigation districts?
Nick Dyner: We would love to partner with an irrigation district to develop new applications around this platform technology. We think nanobubbles have enormous potential across a wide range of industries and uses. We can do two things for irrigation districts: We can reduce the chemicals needed to achieve the quality required, and we can reduce the amount of water that is needed.