Five Minutes With: Joe Gifford, Nanostone vice president of research and development

Joe Gifford, who is listed as an inventor on water technology patents in the US and globally, is Nanostone’s new vice president of research and development

What first attracted you into working in the water industry?

Honestly, when I first started in the water industry it was out of necessity. My previous employer was relocating, and I didn’t want to move. Fortunately, I found a great opportunity at a water treatment company and once I made it into their research and development department I was hooked. It can be very exciting, albeit challenging sometimes, developing new technologies for such a well-established market.

What gets you most excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead?

I am most excited about building a business around what I believe is a technology with the potential to significantly advance water treatment operations. As an early stage company, we make decisions every day that will determine the fate of the business and the technology. I’ve joined at a great moment: The company already has a robust, high-performance product, and I get to help take that to the next level through improvements in product design and manufacturing, and by developing new applications such as seawater desalination and water reuse. Ceramic membranes are very durable that there are many ways to operate them, including applying alternate oxidants and cleaning chemicals if needed. This results in an array of possibilities for developing more efficient water treatment processes which incorporate ceramic membranes, such as directly treating challenging wastewaters, or combining advanced oxidation and ultrafiltration.

Which projects have inspired you in recent years?

I’ve seen a number of recent projects where products and processes which are seen as established and reliable were given new life through redesign and optimisation. Applying new tools such as 3D design and computational fluid dynamic modelling has enabled engineers to take a fresh perspective and redesign traditional products for improved performance, sometimes in altogether new applications. I’ve been involved in reinventing technologies in fields such as electrochemical separation and disinfection, media treatment, and high purity water. Now I want to do the same with filtration, helping Nanostone’s ceramic membrane technology to fulfil its potential to make a significant impact on the field of ultrafiltration.

What one thing would you change about the water industry?

The water industry is slow to adopt new technologies, and rightly so. The impact from a failure could endanger the health and welfare of many people. However, there is also the strong tendency to evaluate technology on capital, as opposed to total lifecycle, cost. This impedes the application of new technologies that tend to cost more initially with the promise of operational savings over the full lifecycle of the plant. This has been typical of ceramic membranes to date, although we are working hard at Nanostone to bring the capital cost of ceramic membranes more in line with that of polymeric membranes. Ceramics’ operating costs can be much lower compared to polymerics’, because the membranes last much longer. As well, ceramics are are more tolerant to chemical and mechanical stress, and variable feedwaters, and generally more recoverable, whereas polymerics typically have to be replaced more often.