Gradiant, which has dual headquarters in Singapore and Boston, is opening out the market for industrial water outsourcing as it pursues its target of 75% recurring revenues from its portfolio of innovative technologies. Chief operating officer Prakash Govindan believes the business model gives the company the edge over his mid-market competitors, and positions the company to compete effectively with market leader Suez WTS after its merger with Veolia. “Typically our customers come to us to figure out a solution,” he says. “Oftentimes it’s extremely complex waters that we end up developing solutions for. In addition to our technology advantage and the solution piece, we have another arrow in our quiver, which is funding.”
The company originally developed its Carrier Gas Extraction evaporator technology and its RO Infinity brine concentration solution for the unconventional oil and gas market in America’s Permian Basin, and set up Gradiant Energy Services to sell systems on a take-or-pay basis. When that market softened, the company opened a second headquarters in Singapore and started selling the same technologies to the broader industrial water market in Asia. The outsourcing model proved popular, although design-build sales still dominate.
Gradiant CFO Luke Johnson believes outsourcing is good for both sides: “There is a certain amount of operational integration that needs to happen for customers to get comfortable with us being on site operating equipment, but it is not their core business,” he explains. “From our perspective we are taking a bit of a bet on an asset class, but in our view it is only going to go one way because of all the tailwinds we are experiencing on the macro side, whether it’s green, it’s water, it’s emerging markets, it’s sustainability, or ESG [environmental, social and governance concerns]. They are not always particularly easy projects to qualify and execute, but we think owning them is easily the best strategy.”
In Asia it has worked in downstream oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and since the acquisition of Sigma in September last year in food & beverage and microelectronics growth has not stopped with the pandemic; the company has sold systems to personal protection equipment manufacturers. The acquisition of CRS Water in Australia improved Gradiant’s project delivery capabilities and added sludge expertise. The company does not divulge its revenues, but GWI estimates they are in the $50-75 mil lion range in 2021. “By 2022 we would be somewhere in the region of an H20 Innovation or something like that. It is a very different trajectory from that of other start ups in water tech,” Govindan remarks. The US is once more a focus of growth, although Gradiant Energy Services is being reintegrated into the parent company, with much of its equipment redeployed.
So what’s new in the technology pipe line for Gradiant? The resource recovery proposition – especially lithium extraction, is an important research focus, but there are others. “One thing that we are really excited about is our digital solutions. We have this platform we are calling Smart Ops. It’s unique for zero liquid discharge and minimum liquid discharge,” says Govindan. Continuous optimisation of systems with variable feedwaters is one of the biggest challenges for ZLD and MLD technologies. In fact, part of Govindan’s PhD thesis was on the subject. Solving it would not only provide a competitive edge for Gradiant. It would also increase the attraction of its technology-as-a-service proposition.
Gradiant now has around 350 employees working in eight countries including China, India, Australia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the US. The picture shows a zero liquid discharge system under construction in Singapore for a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical client.