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A Love of STEM and a Dive into Waste Water Regeneration

Aquacycl headquartered in Escondido is a woman-owned and woman-run wastewater treatment technology company that serves the food and beverage industries as well as oil and gas mediation.

“We are a team of nine and six of us are women,” said Orianna Bretschger, CEO and founder of Aquacycl. “From our CTO to our forklift driver, we’ve got female representation across the board, and we are also extremely grateful and honored to have a tremendous suite of female investors from the San Diego community, who have backed us.”

Aquacycl founder and CFO Orianna Bretchger.

Aquacycl’s BioElectrochemical Treatment Technology offers an onsite water treatment technology that breaks down 80-90% of wastewater and converts some into energy, which fuels the system, and safely disposes into our waterways. This system is mostly being used in the food and beverage industry, including one of the largest companies in the industry. Bretschger has also found that the technologies work well to remove gasoline, diesel and benzene from water. The product is rolling out in Houston next month at a refinery. 

This technology saves companies money on their sewer discharge. Bretschger estimates this savings is somewhere between 30-60% on what they would typically pay for either hauling off wastewater into landfills or the added costs of discharging it into city sewers untreated. Additionally, the electricity generated from treating the wastewater not only creates its own energy to operate the system, it also allows extra energy to the companies that can be used to operate tools such as forklifts or power LEDs in a warehouse.

Aquacycl’s BioElectrochemical Treatment Technology wastewater systems in use on a site.

Aquacycl is celebrating five years in the industry but Bretschger has been working on the technology since 2004. Her path to water waste began when she realized the wonders of bacteria. As a child, she was drawn to science and technology. In college she studied physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University. It was during her graduate work at USC where she was introduced to the concept of bacteria making electricity. 

“I fell in love with the idea of being able to make microbial processes faster by how we control a resistor across the circuit, basically electronically controlling microbial processes,” she said. 

She received her Ph.D in material sciences and began working at J. Craig Venter Institute before branching out on her own in the wastewater industry.

Being a woman in the wastewater industry is an anomaly and Bretschger knows this. She admits the bar for success is much higher for women and expectations are different for women but she said it’s worth it. 

“We are in a very conservative, male-dominated industry,” she said. “We definitely stand out on a worksite, but you know sometimes standing out is a benefit. As a founder and an owner of a small business, it’s a pleasure to be able to provide equality and increase diversity within the workforce. Hopefully, to get equal representation both in business and STEM in the water industry.”