Decontamination thanks to UV, UV Germi’s brilliant company

The swimming events at the 2024 Olympics will have a special taste for the athletes. Gone are the familiar pool odors, swimmers will swim in a healthy atmosphere: To protect them from the dangers of chlorine, 15 pools in the Saint-Denis Olympic Aquatic Center and several fitness centers will be equipped with ultraviolet dechloraminator reactors. A contract won by an unknown SME: UV Germi. This nugget of gold from Corrèze, which specializes in disinfection with UV rays, could go even further, it is in “advanced discussion” with the city of Paris about disinfecting a part of the Seine where the events in open water will be held.

Clean the water in a few seconds without chemicals. The process seems incredible, yet it is completely natural: the sun’s UV-C rays destroy bacteria and viruses. A principle that UV Germi has managed to industrialize.

Its founder, André Bordas, was a visionary when he responded to a tender from the Corrèze Chamber of Agriculture for ten UV reactors in the 1990s to disinfect irrigation water. With only one electric winding CAP as an academic background, this self-taught man decided to manufacture something himself instead of buying from the United States, the only option available at the time. A successful bet for this 70-year-old rugby and motorsport enthusiast, in 1995 he produced his first UV reactor. And it’s a success. So much so that in 2009 he set up another company, UV Germi, to devote himself entirely to the subject and leave the reins of his first structure to his daughter.

André Bordas, founder of UV Germi, and Willy Fortunato, CEO of SMEs. Credit: Agathe Beaujon / Challenges

“Beware of the water”

Swimming pools, aquaculture, aquariums, industries, agri-food, agriculture … the application sectors are innumerable. The SME thus equips 2,500 swimming pools, but also the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, the Beauval Zoo or even Coca-Cola for the health safety of its tanks.

In addition to the health aspect, at a time when France is suffering from drought, UV rays can allow significant water savings. A dechloraminator in a public swimming pool saves e.g. 30 liters of new water per. day and per. bathing, which is otherwise necessary to limit the toxicity of chlorine. “Taking care of water is a duty,” insists Willy Fortunato, general manager of UV Germi. “It is absurd to clean sidewalks or waters with drinking water. We need to recycle our wastewater.”

It is on this principle that the greenhouse at Auïtou in Egletons, Corrèze works, which produces tomatoes in hydroponics, without pesticides. Traditionally, irrigation water is never recycled in agriculture; if a tomato plant is sick, the whole greenhouse will be contaminated. But with UV Germi, the unused greenhouse water is disinfected and returns to the cycle; enough to save water and 30 to 40% fertilizer.

A technology that can also be used to make water drinkable. There are still around 20,000 households in Provence that are not connected to the drinking water network. Operated by the Société du canal de Provence (SCP), they are obliged to install a drinking water system. SCP has been distributing approximately 300 Germi UV devices per year for this purpose for 15 years. “We respect the call for competition, but UV Germi are the best,” assures Jean-Marc Philip, commercial director of SCP, which intends to expand its water treatment offering to 10,000 additional households at once. “Not a problem” for Willy Fortunato, who assures that his SME will have enough money to respond to such an order.

48 employees
6.3 million euros in turnover in 2021
2,500 public pools equipped with Germi UV reactors

Investors seduced

And this success appeals to investors. Listed, the SME raised 3 million euros in January and intends by the end of 2023 to double its turnover – 6.3 million euros in 2021 – thanks to its diversification strategy.

The company with 48 employees invests 20% in R&D. After water from swimming pools, agriculture or industry, this policy has enabled it to embark on disinfection of air and surfaces. “We must be concerned about the air we breathe, like the water we drink,” pleads André Bordas. The pandemic was right. Limoges hospital, Larche College in Corrèze, EDF for nuclear power plants … Everyone was won.

“UV-C is effective. To disinfect sewage, operating rooms or medical instruments, it is a good idea,” says Georges Zissis, a physicist at the University of Toulouse III. But they also pose a cancer risk if exposed. Not to put in all hands therefore. “In schools, it’s better to open a window,” says the professor, while the SME reckons with Emmanuel Macron’s promise to equip all public buildings with air purifiers.

“The Corrèze in Catheter”

Faced with its only French competitor, Bio-UV (44 million euros in turnover), UV Germi trusts in the strength of its values: sustainability and made in Corrèze. Maintenance accounts for 25% of the company’s revenue. “Everything is assembled by hand, can be repaired and recycled. We have stock. Years ago we were seen as enlightened, today we are ‘pioneers’, laughs Willy Fortunato, who resumes in a loud voice. Trois cafés gourmand on the road between two customers: “I have Corrèze in the catheter”. UV Germi makes it very important to produce in France, and if possible at home. “Because performance can only be local”, assures the CEO. The family’s laser cutting company RMA, located 12 kilometers from UV Germi. “Geographical proximity facilitates the work of our design offices to improve solvency and save materials,” says manager Fabrice Réparat. With a global market estimated at 2.5 billion today and 6 billion in 2027, “the prospects are endless,” assures Willy Fortunato, convinced of the glorious future of his UV rays.

Drinking water in Africa thanks to UV

Beyond the French borders, UV Germi and SCP have joined forces with start-up Mios, Danone Communities and Crédit Agricole in a joint venture: Oshun, which provides drinking water solutions in Senegal and Burkina Faso. “Africa will not be able to afford centralized infrastructure for its access to drinking water, this will require on-site water treatment,” says Jean-Marc Philip. Oshun, -named after the goddess of fresh water-, has already installed 300 Germi UV units for 215,000 recipients, with units sold to schools or to entrepreneurs to open a kiosk selling drinking water. Enough to save 11,2000 bags and 9,400 plastic bottles just by operating 15 water kiosks in one year. All the while delivering water 40 times cheaper than bottled water.

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