Wastewater is not just waste—it is a product that will show up downstream, whether it is recycled and immediately reused for irrigation or consumption or it is discharged into a river or ocean, eventually ending up in our taps again. Treating wastewater and discharging it as high-quality, nonpolluted water is important, but it is also difficult. Kando is an Israeli company with an innovative approach to improving wastewater quality. Its software creates a real-time model of the quality of wastewater within a utility’s collection system and can identify and trace pollution events back to their sources. By working to improve the quality of the wastewater they collect, utilities can ease the burden on their wastewater treatment plants and produce higher-quality purified wastewater.
In this interview, Gili Elkin, Kando’s chief growth officer, and Ari Goldfarb, its chief executive officer (CEO), tell Municipal Water Leader about how Kando’s product works and how it is helping cities around the world improve the quality of their treatment processes.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your backgrounds and how you came to be in your current positions.
Gili Elkin: I’m the founder and general partner of the Israel-Colorado Innovation (ICI) Fund. ICI Fund invests in promising Israeli companies in the water, wastewater, and agriculture industries, among others, and supports their scale-up in the United States through one of its partners, Innosphere Ventures. ICI Fund invested in Kando, and once it invests in a company it becomes a partner of that company. As such, I act as a member of Kando’s board of directors as well as Kando’s chief growth officer. I believe that great goals can only be reached through strong partnerships, and we have built a strong partnership with Kando. We have a common goal that is greater than all of us, and we will do whatever it takes, together, to reach it.
Ari Goldfarb: My background is environmental engineering, and I focus on technology and water. I’ve worked as a process engineer in a treatment plant and as a consultant and working engineer for almost 10 years. In 2012, I and one other partner founded Kando. Today, I am its CEO.
Our vision is to create a better and healthier environment. It is a huge vision that one company cannot achieve alone. Our partnership with ICI Fund has become a model that has been integrated into all aspects of our business: We create partnerships with clients and other stakeholders in order to reach our goals.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about Kando as a company.
Ari Goldfarb: The company was founded in 2012 to meet a gap in the market. There are a lot of technologies and solutions in the wastewater sector that focus on downstream water treatment plants—how to create better treatment methods, how to optimize the treatment, and how to improve the effluent. However, it was clear to me from my time in the wastewater sector, working with both industries and municipalities, that reducing a problem at its source is actually the best solution. It is natural for an urban utility to focus on improving how its wastewater treatment facility treats pollution, but if a utility can understand its wastewater collection system and control the upstream sources of pollution in real time, it can treat its wastewater even more successfully. Our idea was to create a technology that would allow users to see the quality of the wastewater in their collection systems in real time and control the sources of that wastewater.
In Israel, utilities are particularly open to new ideas, so we brought this idea to them and explained that we could collect data from their collection systems and, for the first time, make those systems transparent to them. We approached utilities while our idea was still rather immature, and because they immediately saw the value of our vision, they didn’t look at us solely as vendors, but as partners, and actually helped us build our solution. Once we had built it, we found that there was a huge need for it, and after 3–4 years, we were working with many of the cities in Israel. We then moved into the Australian, European, and U.S. markets. In Europe, we work in cities like Athens; Berlin; Paris; and a number of cities in northern Italy, including Bologna and Milan. We now have more than 40 employees around the world, including at an office in the United States.
Gili Elkin: Israeli innovation is particularly strong in the water and wastewater sectors. Sixty percent of Israel is desert and the rest is semiarid, but we actually export water to our neighbors because of our innovation and technology. People often say things like “There’s no time,” but I say that there are 24 hours in a day and it’s all a question of how we manage that time. The same goes for water. We have a certain amount of water; the question is how to manage it.
Israel’s strength lies in how it manages its water and wastewater. We value our wastewater, treat 95 percent of it, and reuse around 85 percent of the treated wastewater. We treat the wastewater in the Shafdan, a wastewater treatment plant located in central Israel, and use distribution pipelines to take it to the Negev Desert in the south. The cities reuse wastewater to irrigate parks. They value wastewater and are constantly looking for technologies to improve its quality and to expand opportunities for reuse.
Cities would also do anything to prevent pollution in wastewater, since sewage does occasionally overflow into streets and polluted wastewater contains viruses and poses a risk to public health. Kando’s system has the potential to help cities control the quality of their wastewater, and now more than ever, it is essential to protect public health. This is demonstrated by the increase in requests we are seeing from current and new clients.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your activities in the U.S. market.
Gili Elkin: As already mentioned, ICI Fund and Kando have a strong partnership, and through the Israeli-U.S. Water Initiative, which is a platform that connects U.S. water leaders with the Israeli ecosystem, we are introducing Israeli solutions to the greatest water challenges in the United States. This initiative is supported by former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, who are interested in bringing more Israeli water technologies into their respective states. We are also meeting with other state leaders. In January 2020, Ari and I met the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and in November 2019 we met the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer. We are also meeting with mayors and heads of utilities to learn about their challenges and to tell them more about the strengths of Israeli water technologies. This is how we have been expanding Kando in the United States, and we’ve been growing quickly. We started in California and work in several major cities there; we also work in Arizona, Oregon, and Texas. Now we are expanding into Maryland and Michigan. We only started our expansion into the United States 1 year ago. We are taking advantage of our invitations to speak at major water and wastewater conferences in the United States to increase awareness of Kando’s mission of improving wastewater quality, increasing the reuse of nonpolluted wastewater, and protecting public health around the world.
Municipal Water Leader: How does Kando’s product work?
Ari Goldfarb: We look at wastewater not as waste, but as a product that someone else will use downstream. The quality of that end product is extremely important. Even in places where that wastewater is not being reused for irrigation, it will end up somewhere and people will encounter it again, whether in the ocean, at the beach, in rivers, or in the aquifer. The best way to improve the quality of that wastewater is to control its sources and make sure that what comes to the treatment plant is of a better quality. The way we do that is by enabling utilities to understand their cities’ complex collection networks and to see what is occurring within them. If there is a change in the wastewater quality anywhere in the city, our technology allows them to see it. Our product is based on data analytics. We collect the basic data that utilities have about their collection system. We also install sensor units in the collection system. We bring all this data together, and based on the company’s experience and the client’s understanding of what happens in their wastewater collection systems as well as data that we have been collecting from all over the world for a decade now, we create a model of what happens in the collection system.
Based on that, we translate the data into simple action items for the operator. That way, the operator doesn’t have to look into raw data to see if there was a change somewhere in the city and figure out how to react to it by themselves. That is how we notify the operator about pollution events and trace their sources within the collection system.
Municipal Water Leader: Would you describe a pollution event that the Kando system would be able to identify, and how it would alert a wastewater provider?
Ari Goldfarb: We have witnessed that wastewater utilities all over the world face similar challenges. Wastewater is collected from sources like food and chemical industries and undergoes biological treatment. Some cities have more industrial pollution sources; some have more natural sources of pollution, like seawater penetration. Each source of wastewater, down to hotel kitchens and commercial kitchens, influences wastewater quality, which in turn affects the treatment plant and the collection system. Over the 9 years that we’ve been active, we have learned how to record changes in wastewater quality and have built software that can trace those events, tell us where they are happening, what their sources are, and what effects they will have on the treatment plant.
Municipal Water Leader: What results are clients seeing in their operations and their expenses?
Ari Goldfarb: I’ll give you an example related to current events. During the coronavirus outbreak, utilities are concerned with operating their systems while much of the workforce is at home. That makes it even more important to get information about what is happening in your collection systems remotely.
More generally, if you can control what happens upstream and you can see where pollution is coming from in real time, you can communicate with those sources and work with them to reduce the polluted load coming into the treatment plant. That helps reduce costs, operations and maintenance needs, and construction costs. If treatment plants can reduce their incoming loads by controlling their sources, they may not have to upgrade or expand. We replace a concrete solution with a digital solution.
Gili Elkin: We will always have wastewater, and we need to continue to operate treatment systems to protect public health, especially during these days when normal operations have been interrupted. We enable cities to control their systems remotely so that they can continuously ensure that the quality of their wastewater is high and that they’re not discharging polluted wastewater into the oceans and rivers. We will do everything we can to improve public health and to help cities and governments deal with the current crisis using our technology.