When Halifax’s Clean Valley CIC closes its current funding round, it hopes to have $1.5 million to help pay for up-front production costs as it looks to transition to a “hardware-as-a-service” revenue model.

“Instead of having our customer pay a large capital cost, they’ll pay much smaller, monthly, incremental fees,” Founder Nicholas LaValle said in an interview Wednesday. “And the reason why we see that as an important shift is because, rather than having one customer that we sell one system to one year, we have a contract to maintain (the system) for many years to come.”

Founded in 2018, Clean Valley has developed technology for growing algae in wastewater from land-based aquaculture pens. The algae can then be fed to oysters, after which the now-filtered water is circulated back into the pen. The algae- and oyster-growing systems are each housed in 20-foot shipping containers.

The company bills its technology as more sustainable than other water filtration methods, because its cyclical design does not rely on harsh chemicals and relies on processes that already occur in nature.

“It’s unfortunate, but a lot of people still don’t see farmed fish as a natural product,” said LaValle. “They would much rather go with fish that’s coming out of the ocean, because it’s deemed to be more natural. But we have no idea where that fish has been. … That fish could have been absorbing microplastics and living in oil its entire life.

“So we want to rebuild the trust between the average person and the fish farmer.

A rendering of a Clean Valley oyster hatchery

Clean Valley’s flagship trial with Portuguese aquaculture operator SEAentia — which had already been underway for nine months when the businesses renewed it for another six months last September — now looks set to continue indefinitely.

“We intend on turning that into our first commercial unit, that we can use to showcase what the need is and what value proposition we can give to fish farmers around the globe,” said LaValle.

Last November, Clean Valley secured a patent for its system. LaValle and his five-person team will manufacture some parts of the system in-house, outsourcing other components to suppliers in North America and Europe. The $1.5 million raise builds on a prior, $580,000 friends and family round. The company also recently received funding from national startup support organization Futurpreneur’s Black Entrepreneurship Startup Program, which aims to help Black founders overcome systemic obstacles and racial barriers.

LaValle has also had talks with several First Nations groups about potentially deploying Clean Valley’s technology in Indigenous-owned aquaculture operations, as well as about the possibility of using oyster beds as a protective layer for infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants.

“The multi-tropic biofilter is built off the principles of recreating the ocean, and doing it on land, to grow fish as cleanly and naturally as possible,” he said.