Winner by a Nose: Inventor's sewer odor filter claims prize
Apr 03, 2012 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The sweet smell of success stinks for John Paoluccio Jr.
The Modesto resident's Manhole Odor Eliminator recently won the San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge. His sewer vent odor control device beat 60 other entries and took home $17,000 in cash and services.
The 38-year-old Modesto resident said the idea came from a need he saw across the country because of an increase in low-flow toilets and water efficiency programs. Reducing the water used in municipal systems also lessens the ability to flush out stinky pipes ... which then causes a buildup in hydrogen sulfide gas, which causes an unpleasant rotten egg smell.
San Francisco recently announced plans to buy $14 million in bleach to combat the stench.
"One solution creates another problem, and that keeps me in business," said Paoluccio, who designed the filter through his firm, Inventive Resources Inc.
Cities combat the problem with expensive chemical treatment and simple carbon inserts. Paoluccio said what makes his filter different is a two-part bladder system that collects the peak gases and only filters them when needed, thus greatly extending the filter's life and saving on expensive carbon inserts.
The result, he said, is a filter that lasts at least a year and three to five times longer than existing models.
Paoluccio's hope is to sell the product, which runs $500 to $750 apiece, to municipalities to put on problem odor areas. He has marketed it to casinos, amusement parks and golf courses. The replacement filters cost $100.
The idea is not to install the filters on every manhole, but only on the ones where the public has registered complaints or on those in public areas.
"There are 50 million manholes in the United States," he said. "If we treat just one-tenth of 1 percent of those, that could be more than $25 million in sales." He sold his first units to Stockton about six months ago, which has been using them around the city. He has 13 installed in a Southern California amusement park and some in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Florida.
Based on UOP project Paoluccio began developing the Manhole Odor Eliminator a year ago and finished about six months later. The design was inspired in part by his senior project at the University of the Pacific in 2002. As a student, he developed a water filtration grate while earning his mechanical engineering degree.
The Manhole Odor Eliminator is built on-site at Paoluccio's facility in Salida. Several of his family's enterprises are run out of the warehouse and office space, including Inventive Resources Inc., which has 10 employees who do all the fabrication and administration.
Paoluccio's lifelong interest in invention and design was sparked by his father, John Paoluccio Sr., who founded Paoluccio Engineering in 1972. The senior Paoluccio started Inventive Resources as a developmental and environmental branch of the business in 1984. The company holds 19 patents.
"I see a huge push in the need for some environmental change," Paoluccio Jr. said. "I knew early on that issues like water and filtration were going to be important. And I knew there would be solutions for them." Paoluccio has taken his Manhole Odor Eliminator to four trade shows, with plans to hit at least two more this year. He will use some of his San Joaquin Entrepreneur Challenge winnings to pay for those. He also hopes winning will get his invention on the radar of more local cities confronted with smelly situations.
Monitors on existing units in the field show that the stinky hydrogen sulfide gases have been reduced. Readings show gases have been reduced from 70 to 150 parts per million before filtration to 3 to 10 parts per million after.
"We haven't heard much from the places we've installed them, which means they're working," he said. "No news is good news." Paoluccio said he hopes to get in contact with officials in Modesto and other Central Valley cities about the Manhole Odor Eliminator.
He said he's willing to do product testing and install some free of charge to certain municipalities to show its effectiveness.
"This isn't just an idea, this is something that works," he said.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.
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