11 September 17 The Business Times by CHIN YONG CHANG
EVERYONE knows that oil and water do not mix. Unfortunately, this does not always apply, especially when dealing with industrial and lubrication oils used in different kinds of machinery components across many industries.
Water can exist in several states mixed in these industrial oils and it can damage industrial components if left unchecked. For instance, vehicle engines and braking systems have been known to be damaged or fail because of water contamination, costing many lives in the process.
This is where Bttrigtical Pte Ltd comes in - the firm has developed a solution for detecting water-in-oil contamination cheaply and easily. The product that the firm is developing has the potential to disrupt a whole host of industries ranging from the oil and gas, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industry to even the food and beverage industry.
This is because the technology can be applied to measure the level of water inside any liquid - whether it is petroleum or extra virgin olive oil, said Bttrigtical's technical director Kwong Kam Choon.
It can even test to see if any water has been used to thin out other liquids such as milk or alcohol, he added, he said when explaining how the project has applications in the food-related industries.
Even though the measurement of water contamination is necessary in many industries, there has been very little innovation on this front. For the past 100 years, according to Bttrigical group executive Yong Wye Meng, roughly the same instruments and methods have been used, and there is still no instrument in the market that can measure water in oil instantly and safely while ensuring a high level of accuracy.
To give some perspective on the scale of the technological advancement achieved by the development of Bttrigtical's water-in-oil contamination detector, to compare Bttrigtical's detection methods to current methods would be like comparing the use of an electronic calculator to using an abacus to solve sums.
"Once our solution becomes deployed in a widespread manner, I think nobody is going to go back to the old methods," Mr Yong quipped.
He explained that not only is his test more convenient and easier to carry out, but it is also far more accurate than existing testing methods.
Mobile and easy
Mr Yong explained that at present there are three main ways of measuring water content in oil - Karl Fischer titration, distillation, or via a centrifuge.
The Karl Fischer method is expensive and uses a reagent in the test kit, necessarily destroying the sample under testing.
Distillation is toxic, and highly labour-intensive. Using a centrifuge, on the other hand, tends to be inaccurate and is also not portable or accessible.
So Bttrigtical developed a test kit which is highly mobile and easy to use. The unit is housed in a transportable box which can be easily carried around, and all that the tester needs to do is fill an accompanying plastic tube with an oil sample, and insert it into the box, to begin testing.
This project did not come easy for Mr Yong, as he said attracting funding has been one of the biggest problems he has faced. "It is very hard to draw investment for a product which has not yet been developed, as there is usually a lot of scepticism."
He said he drew funding from his own personal sources of income, and went to great lengths to save costs such as moving between the United States, Singapore and China at different phases of development, as well as working with partners such as Sinopec and the National University of Singapore.
Mr Yong said he is working with a unit of Sinopec, and that the Sinopec unit will be one of the company's first customers.
However, Mr Yong remained optimistic as he said his project has a lot of business potential, as it could disrupt very many highly profitable industries in one fell swoop.
In the upstream crude oil industry alone, there is a US$9 billion market ripe for disruption, he said. The number swells to an even higher value once other types of oils and processes are taken into account.
The company also has another product it has developed. Apart from the oil-in-water contamination detector, Bttrigtical and its partners have also used its advances in molecular science technology to develop a reusable antimicrobial coating that kills pathogens, bacteria, viruses and fungi.
In simple terms, it is a thin coating which can be applied on any surface, which kills bacteria and other harmful microbes upon contact. It can be used on a filter or mesh for a variety of applications including purifying drinking water or filtering harmful gasses such as cancer-causing formaldehyde out of the air we breathe.
It can also be used as a spray-on coating, to be applied on lift buttons or seats on different modes of public transport in order to reduce the risk of diseases being passed on as any harmful viruses or bacteria would be killed instantly upon contact with any surface sprayed with this coating.
A face mask, such as the masks used during the haze, is another one of its applications. Bttrigtical said the mask is more powerful than any other mask on the market as not only does it filter the air we breathe, but also kills bacteria and other microbes.
Its products are currently commercialised and the firm is working with hospitals and other clients to roll out its products.
Both these product lines have resulted in steady growth for the company. While Mr Yong did not disclose the company's financial figures, he said that the company has begun pushing out its products and expects its sales revenue to go well beyond the S$1 million mark this year.
If production and sales continue as he has planned, said Mr Yong, then the company would experience "explosive" growth over the next five years given the lack of close competitors for the water-in-oil detector at present.
Bttrigtical's water-in-oil detector uses a technology known as micro-capacitance, which in simple terms measures the electrical resistance of a fluid to detect its composition. But, as Mr Kwong said, this specific technology is not what makes their invention unique.
While neither he nor Mr Yong divulged specifics of how their product combines micro-capacitance with other technologies, Mr Kwong listed improved artificial intelligence technologies as one of the features behind their breakthrough.
When asked how Bttrigtical would market their product to different types of users, Mr Yong said that instead of just distributing and selling the testing unit directly to buyers, he is exploring options to make the unit available via a subscription model, which would make it viable for smaller businesses or even individuals to use the test.