Blue is the new green

A Hungarian company wants to get its hands on Virginia Commonwealth University’s waste water.

Budapest-based waste water treatment company Organica has chosen Richmond as its first U.S. location with the hopes of landing VCU as its first big client.

The start-up has leased an office downtown and hired six employees with its eye on a contract with VCU for the potential construction of a $500,000 waste water treatment facility.

Organica treats and recycles waste water through a 14-hour process that uses greenhouses. (Read more about the process  here.)

“The East Coast was a viable market,” said Daniel Allison, who handles Organica’s U.S. market research. “College campuses and universities are our main focus; that’s where a lot of water is being used.”

The company’s local operation is essentially a start-up funded by Organica Hungary and a series of private investors, including a local resident.

VCU is Organica USA’s primary prospect, and the company has proposed to pay for the construction of  a waste water plant here in Richmond. The deal, which Organica hopes could happen as early as March, would involve  a 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot plant called a “blue house,” and would cost between $500,000 and $600,000, Allison said. VCU, as the plan is proposed, would then pay Organica per 1,000 gallons treated, Allison said.

According to Allison, a 2010 report showed VCU uses 321.4 million gallons of water over the course of a year among the school’s approximately 210 buildings. In 2008, Virginia alone documented $6.9 billion in water infrastructure needs, a 23 percent increase from 2004.

“This [proposed VCU] plant could save 50,000 gallons of water per day,” Allison said. “There are a host of economic and environmental benefits of this plant.”

Organica has about 24 waste water treatment plants in France, Poland, Austria and China, and after realizing the market for this technology and water needs in the United States decided to move to Richmond in July. The company was founded in 1998. It has 70 employees internationally.

“Our goal is lowering the outtake of freshwater usage for non-freshwater purposes,” said Melissa McDonald, Organica’s local head of marketing and communications. “Meaning not using drinking water for things like flushing the toilet, watering your lawn, washing your car; things of that nature.”

Organica touts its methods as more sustainable for the environment and cheaper than municipally-run waste water treatment processes.

“Water is a finite resource, and we’re consuming it faster than it can replenish itself,” said McDonald.

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