Grant will support the development of a next-generation MadiDrop+ for household water purification

Silivhere Technologies Inc., the Charlottesville, Virginia-based company co-founded by James Smith, University of Virginia Henry L. Kinnier Professor of Civil Engineering, has been awarded a $254,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Technology Transfer program. The award will be used for further research and development of the MadiDrop+, a water purification tablet made of porous ceramic embedded with silver.

Smith co-invented the MadiDrop+ as an extremely low-cost means of providing safe drinking water for individual households. Since about one in four people in the world do not have safe drinking water in their homes, Smith’s point-of-use technology has the potential to improve water quality, human health and quality of life for millions globally. Smith’s entrepreneurial effort grew out of his research on silver ceramic water filters at UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

When the MadiDrop+ tablet is placed in a 10- to 20-liter water storage container, it releases silver ions to disinfect waterborne pathogens such as V. cholera, Shigella and E. coli. One MadiDrop+ treats more than 7,000 liters of water over its 12-month lifespan at a cost of less than two-tenths of a cent per liter.

Child holding MadiDrop tablet

One MadiDrop+ treats more than 7,000 liters of water over its 12-month lifespan at a cost of less than two-tenths of a cent per liter.

Silivhere Technologies is partnering on the grant with Smith, who is a faculty member in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at UVA Engineering, and Rachel Letteri, an assistant professor of chemical engineering. Letteri is co-principal investigator on the project, and the lead investigator for UVA Engineering’s portion of the grant. Supporting faculty entrepreneurship is a priority for the school.

The goal of the team, which includes civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. students Jamie Harris and Ana Estrella-You and chemical engineering Ph.D. student Israt Jahan Duti, is to develop the next generation of the MadiDrop+.

“We’re excited to contribute our lab’s experience in polymer chemistry and engineering to help take the MadiDrop+ technology to the next level,” Letteri said. “Given the potential of this project to improve access to clean water, we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”

Smith said the team is developing a new MadiDrop+ that uses silver, chlorine and copper, working together to disinfect household drinking water.

“Funding from this NSF award will allow us to significantly improve the MadiDrop+ performance across all pathogen classes, including viruses, bacteria and protozoa,” he said.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, division director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”

Silivhere chief executive officer Chris Conti said the NSF grant is critical to research and development work on the MadiDrop+ product.

“Our goal is to provide a highly effective, low cost, easy-to-use point-of-use water treatment technology to help people in low-resource settings,” Conti said “The point-of-use water treatment market is more than $25 billion annually and there is an urgent need for this type of technology.”

Once a small business is awarded a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer grant, which can be up to $256,000, the company becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II award up to $1 million. Small businesses with Phase II funding are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.

Silivhere plans to have the next-generation MadiDrop+ ready for sale by early 2023, Smith said. He anticipates the new tablets will cost more than the current MadiDrop+, which now costs $14.95 and which the company likely will continue to sell as a lower-priced option.