The next time you grill up some Atlantic salmon at home or get some salmon rolls from the sushi house, Verona-made technology may have helped make your dinner taste better.
And it’s all because of a water purification solutions company that could revolutionize the fish farm industry.
Exciton Clean, which was founded in June 2018, has spent nearly three years researching and developing technology that could help solve a common problem in farmed fish – off-flavors due in part from the aquaculture systems fish farm producers use, company chief scientist Dr. Terence Barry told the Press.
The bacteria and other microorganisms in those fish farm ecosystems create compounds that deposit themselves into the fat of fish, creating an earthy or muddy taste, Barry explained.
For years, fish farms and hatcheries used a costly purging process which relocated fish to a new tank and flushed them with clean water for up to 10 days to make them more palatable before harvesting. The fish do not eat during this process, causing them to lose muscle and body mass.
Barry said his company’s reactor destroys those chemicals more efficiently, and now that flushing process that might take up to 10 days could instead take four days, allowing fish to preserve that muscle mass.
The reactor consists of a plastic tube, around two-and-a-half inches in diameter, housing a thin piece of metal foil wrapped into a tube shape inside, through which ultraviolet (UV) light passes and reacts. The size of the reactor depends on the size of the tank it’s treating.
The technology is called the Exciton Advanced Oxidation Process, which uses germicidal UV light to activate a catalyst that produces oxidants that destroy numerous microbial and chemical contaminants in water. It’s a reaction between the UV light and that proprietary catalyst – a chemical coating the metal that Barry calls the “secret sauce” – that produces the oxidants that destroy numerous microbial and chemical contaminants in water.
Last November, it was featured in an international aquaculture magazine, Barry said, despite Exciton Clean being a “really new company.”
“We’ve only sold a couple reactors, but our company is considered cutting edge,” he said. “We’re a startup that was doing research and development for two-and-a-half years, and we are just now moving into the manufacturing and sales phase.”
As you walk into Exciton Clean, located in the Liberty Drive Business Park, it looks a bit more like a workshop than a factory.
PVC tubing leans against desks or is piled in boxes, half-assembled reactors poke out of a trash bin. Dozens of plastic tubs line a storage unit a dozen shelves tall – each containing different odds and ends that will become necessary components for building the water purification technology. A 3D printer has a long john donut sitting in front of it, dropped off by the wife of an employee too busy on the phone to eat it.
Barry was formerly a senior scientist and director of the Aquaculture Research Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for nearly three decades. But he left academia to focus on growing Exciton Clean, where he helps develop water purification solutions and new technologies to remove chemical and microbial contaminants.
Barry said he’s a biologist, not a systems engineer, so when the tech was invented by a friend at UW, they tested it on some problems in the water where fish are raised and it worked well. That was the basis for a business partnership.
He and his partners’ work have applications in aquaponics, hydroponics, aquariums and aquaculture, using a patented technology. They are now developing new products for cleaning water in recreational settings such as swimming pools, spas and water gardens, and also industrial applications such as drinking water systems, pharmaceutical production and medical devices, Barry said.
“We were kind of lucky in a way,” he said. “We tried something, and it worked really well.”