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CEE Doctoral Student Co-founds Prize-winning Startup Offering Groundbreaking Treatment for Water Contaminants

Julie Bliss Mullen

Julie Bliss Mullen

Feature writer Scott Merzbach reported in the Daily Hampshire Gazette that a transformative water-treatment discovery by doctoral student Julie Bliss Mullen of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is the basis for a promising startup company named Aclarity LLC, a UMass Amherst spinoff that is developing technology to remove contaminants from water in a cost-effective way. Mullen and Barrett Mully, a UMass Amherst MBA student, founded Aclarity in 2017 and won $26,000 last year from the Innovation Challenge, an entrepreneurship contest run by Berthiaume Center at the Isenberg School of Management.

Merzbach said that Mullen’s technology kills pathogens, treats toxic organics, and removes metals through electricity, and, “if available, could solve the Flint, Michigan, water crisis by providing a treatment option that conserves resources and energy,” as well as not requiring all treatment to be done at a centralized location.

A portable prototype of the new technology was even taken to India by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy when he visited there earlier this spring and demonstrated Mullen’s technology in a rural part of the country using solar power.

As Merzbach wrote in his Gazette article, “In a water testing laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, a researcher has identified the technology that can remove contaminants from water more thoroughly, and less expensively, than similar products already on the market. Following her discovery of a method that uses electricity to create a reaction to purify the water, Julie Bliss Mullen…teamed with Leverett native Barrett Mully to found Aclarity, LLC, a company they believe will be offering a scalable technology that allows water in a small bottle to be cleaned as easily as the water in a specific household sink, at an entire home, and eventually for a whole city or town.”

Mully told Merzbach that “This can be a transformational technology to clean water better than anything out there.”

Aclarity is already developing under-the-sink prototypes to clean water from home faucets and recently took second place at the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator program to win a $27,500 prize. Now Aclarity is being highlighted by the Innovation Series, a Peoples-Bank-initiated program that aims to bring more attention and publicity to local startup companies.

As the Gazette article explained, “Mully was a teaching assistant for an entrepreneurship class as he pursued his Master of Business Administration at Isenberg when he met Mullen and found out about what she had learned while doing work in ELab 2 building.”

“This is where she discovered the technology,” Mully said during a recent interview in the building.

“I thought [a] universal water purification platform could be a feel-good product,” said Mully, who is now full-time chief executive officer for Aclarity.” Existing technologies include the carbon filter, ultraviolet light, or reverse osmosis.

Merzbach also reported that UMass owns the intellectual property for Mullen’s invention, and Aclarity is going through the licensing process and has a patent pending for what Mully calls the “secret sauce” that is used in the product. Aclarity has raised more than $150,000 through grants and other programs, including a state grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center for $65,000 for product development.

Aclarity also recently got $225,000 from the federal Small Business Innovation Research office, an amount which will allow the startup to move into the Institute for Applied Life Sciences building, a more formal setting for the continued work.

Mullen, who is still pursuing her doctorate, continues to do validation and testing and gathering hard data. (June 2018)