Every day when ecoSPEARS CEO and co-founder Sergie Albino ’03 walks into his office in Altamonte Springs, Florida, he is reminded of his mission, displayed prominently on the wall: “We imagine a world where every human being has access to clean water, clean food and clean air.”
What some may consider unattainable, the aerospace engineering alum — who was named among the Orlando Business Journal’s 2021 CEOs of the Year — has a solution to help make that world a reality.
Since he started ecoSPEARS in 2017 with exclusively licensed technology from NASA, Albino and his team design and develop sustainable methods to extract and eliminate polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins and other persistent toxins from the environment permanently. Many of them ended up in our soil and waterways because until they were banned in 1979, PCBs were legally used in everyday goods.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “More than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is through the food supply, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish. … Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” WHO predicts that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
As a UCF student, Albino interned at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), where he later ended up as a payload hardware engineer. While working there and pursuing his MBA from Rollins College, he met KSC environmental engineer Jackie Quinn and UCF alumni Phil Maloney ’07 ’13PhD and Robert DeVor ’03 ’08PhD, who eventually invented the SPEARS (Sorbent Polymer Extraction and Remediation System) technology.
“I thought the SPEARS technology had a lot of legs,” Albino says. “[What piqued my interest] was the challenge of … solving a world mission of clean water.”
The SPEARS technology uses clusters of plastic spikes filled with ethanol to absorb toxins. The spikes are then pressed into the sediment where they can stay until remediation levels are achieved — even if that takes years — before they are removed, and the harmful toxins are responsibly destroyed on-site using UV or chemical destruction of the contamination.
“We aren’t choosing options that would further create contamination,” Albino says. “We would never want to trade off clean water or clean soil for clean air. That’s not the right path.”
The company, which has 12 full-time employees and six interns — many of whom are Knights — has run pilot tests in California, Hawaii, Guam, Washington and Sweden.
While the SPEARS technology is specific to sediment remediation in bodies of water, the company has since expanded its efforts to soil washing remediation (ecoTERRA) as well as industrial wastewater and groundwater remediation (ecoCUBE).
“I would love to see this company grow to be a tool for change in the world when it comes to health and public safety, the environment, and sustainability,” Albino says.
Sergie Albino ’03
Green and sustainable technology for a cleaner environment
NASA-developed technology, co-invented by UCF alumni Phil Maloney ’07 ’13PhD and Robert DeVor ’03 ’08PhD
EIA Social Enterprise Fund, Kirenaga Partners and Northwestern University
Where you can find it