Published : Thursday, 12 Nov 2009, 9:28 PM ES
By JENISE FOUTS Sentinel Staff Writer
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – A Bowling Green business, still in its infancy, has melded state-of-the-art technology from Bowling Green State University with an Ignite grant from the Regional Growth Partnership’s Rocket Venture program to become a successful global enterprise in only nine months.
Blue Water Satellite Inc. uses two U.S. government Landsat satellites, plus patented and patent-pending algorithms, to detect a variety of pollutants in drinking and recreational bodies of water in Ohio, across the U.S. and around the world. The science is done at a fraction of the cost, and is more accurate, than samplings taken by someone in a boat.
The company’s technology can detect the presence of E. Coli, cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, phosphorus run-off from agricultural applications, total vegetation and Red Tide in bodies of water as small as 20 acres up to oceans. Certain cyanobacteria can produce toxins which affect the nervous system, liver and cells, resulting in respiratory and stomach problems, rashes and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
“We’re the only one that has a patent on using satellite imaging for detecting cyanobacteria,” stated Chief Executive Officer Milt Baker, a former Motorola executive who has co-founded two other successful companies.
The patent used by Blue Water Satellite (BWS) is actually owned by BGSU, along with the patents which are pending. But the company has negotiated an exclusive license with the university for their use.
The patents are based on the research of the company’s primary founder and chief technology officer, Dr. Robert K. Vincent, a professor of geology at BGSU. One of the country’s leading experts in remote sensing, he has worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for 15 years on a variety of ways to monitor portions of Earth using satellite data.
Vincent invented spectral-ratio imaging in 1970 and is the first scientist to produce spectral-ratio images from aircraft and satellite scanner data.
Baker and Vincent teamed up in 2007 to co-found BWS. Vincent personally landed $1 million in funding from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for his research at BGSU and poured two years into developing a high-level correlation between satellite pass-over data and ground-based samples.
“Dr. Vincent developed the algorithm, how you go from a picture into determining where there is cyanobacteria,” stated Baker. The algorithm is so accurate, it can determine pollution down to the parts per billion (ppb) level.
Before BWS opened in February, the men received the first Ignite grant, of $50,000, from Rocket Ventures, the high-tech financial arm of the Regional Growth Partnership. The grant was used for a market study of the company’s services and drew investors.
The company’s technology is applicable to 150,000 water bodies across the U.S. (from estuaries, fresh water lakes and reservoirs to wastewater and storm water reservoirs), plus more worldwide. BWS has quotes for its service in Australia, as well as China, and it has already done work in Canada.
In Ohio, BWS traced the origin of a cyanobacterial bloom in the Ohio River to a manufacturing plant dumping into the Licking River.
The cost savings to municipalities and industries which use BWS’s technology are tremendous. Traditional sampling is $1,500 per acre, at $300 per water sample taken from a boat in five locations. It is cost prohibitive to scan large bodies of water by boat, so it is not done. But a satellite scan of a large water body averages out to only $1 per acre.
It also reduces the costs of monitoring the water and pinpoints areas that need treatment. Instead of chemicals being dumped in an entire lake to treat cyanobacteria, BWS shows exactly where the treatment should go. And, the company provides before and after data so officials know if it has been successful.
A patent is pending for BWS to provide data on total phosphorus on land. Instead of farmers blasting an entire field with phosphorus, with runoff going into ditches, rivers and lakes and becoming nutrition for algae, they will only need to apply it where needed.