Solving problems from carbon sequestration to Fukushima

Categories : EnterpriseWorks, Features
Posted on: April 2, 2012

Central Illinois Business Magazine: Innovation, Outer Limits

Geochemical modeling software developed by a University of Illinois geology professor helps scientists solve water quality problems, including environmental cleanup and energy production.

Aqueous Solutions — a company founded by UI geology Professor Craig Bethke and located in the UI Research Park — makes the Geochemist’s Workbench software.

The software is an integrative package, allowing scientists to do anything “from simple diagrams to very complex reactive transport simulations,” Bethke said.

For instance, a company spending tens of millions of dollars to clean up a Superfund site could simulate its cleanup strategy using the software, see if it will work, and optimize the efficiency of the cleanup, potentially saving time and money.

Or an energy company considering carbon dioxide sequestration could look at how the carbon dioxide would react with an underground reservoir.

The software itself first became available in 1991, and was used by UI researchers and a consortium of 15 companies — national laboratories, environmental companies, energy companies and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Bethke is retiring from the UI this summer, and the continuing development and distribution of the software was moved to Bethke’s new company. Aqueous Solutions has been operating since mid-August 2011, and it began selling the software in early December.

Aqueous Solutions was set up as a paperless company, with its functions performed through cloud computing.

The amount of business Aqueous Solutions has been doing surpassed Bethke’s expectations.

He credits the direct connection between himself and his employees and their customers, by using the cloud rather than an outside marketing and distribution company. Bethke said it has streamlined operations in licensing and distributing the Geochemist’s Workbench; lowered the price of the software; and allowed the developers of the software to be more responsive to customers needing support.

The customers are primarily environmental scientists, energy companies and universities. The software is used in 118 different countries and by more than 1,000 customers. The highest number of sales right now are to laboratories in Japan.

“After the Fukushima crisis, there’s a huge need right now for understanding contaminant migration,” Bethke said, referring to the nuclear power plant disaster caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan