The swimming events of the 2024 Olympics will have a special flavor for the athletes. Exit the family smells of swimming pool, the swimmers are evaluated in a healthy atmosphere: for the protectors of the dangers of chlorine, 15 pools of the Olympic aquatic center of Saint-Denis and several training centers will be equipped with dechloraminating ultraviolet reactors. A contract won by an unknown SME: UV Germi. This nugget from Corrèze, specialist in the proposal by UV rays, could even go further, it is in “advanced discussion” with the city of Paris to disinfect a portion of the Seine where the open water events will be held.
Sanitize water in seconds, without chemicals. The process seems unheard of, yet it is completely natural: the UV-C from the sun destroys bacteria and viruses. A principle that UV Germi has managed to industrialise.
Its founder, André Bordas, was a visionary when he responded to a call for tenders from the Corrèze Chamber of Agriculture for ten UV reactors in the 1990s to disinfect irrigation water. With a single electrical winding CAP as academic background, this self-taught man decided to manufacture some himself, rather than 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 is a success. So much so that in 2009 he created a second company, UV Germi, to devote himself entirely to the subject, deferring the dreams of his first structure to his daughter.
“Take care of the water”
Swimming pools, aquaculture, aquariums, industries, agri-food, agriculture… the sectors of application are innumerable. The SME thus equips 2,500 swimming pools, but also the oceanographic museum of Monaco, the zoo of Beauval, or even coca-cola for the health safety of its tanks.
Beyond the health aspect, at a time when France is suffering from drought, UV rays could allow substantial water savings. A dechloraminator in a public swimming pool, for example, saves 30 liters of new water per day and per bather, otherwise necessary to limit the capacity of chlorine. “Taking care of water is a duty, insists Willy Fortunato, general manager of UV Germi. It is absurd to clean sidewalks or irrigate with drinking water. We must reuse our wastewater.”
It is on this principle that the greenhouse of Auïtou in Egletons in Corrèze works, which produces tomatoes in hydroponics, without pesticides. Traditionally, irrigation water is never reused in agriculture; if a tomato plant is sick, the whole greenhouse would be contaminated. But with UV Germi, the unused greenhouse water is disinfected and returned to the circuit; which saves 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. Powered 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 competition, but UV Germi are the best, assures Jean-Marc Philip, commercial director of SCP, who intends to extend its water treatment offer to 10,000 additional households at once. “Not a problem” for Willy Fortunato who assures that his SME will have enough cash to respond to such an order.
6.3 million euros in turnover in 2021
2,500 public pools equipped with Germi UV reactors
And this success has won investors over. Listed, the SME raised 3 million euros in January and, by the end of 2023, intends to double its turnover – 6.3 million euros in 2021 – thanks to its diversification strategy.
The company of 48 employees invests 20% in R&D. After water from swimming pools, agriculture or industry, this policy has enabled it to embark on the prescription of air and surfaces. “We must be concerned about the air we breathe like the water we drink”, pleads André Bordas. The pandemic gave him a reason. Limoges hospital, Larche college in Corrèze, EDF for nuclear power plants… All were won over.
“UV-C are effective. To disinfect wastewater, operating rooms or medical instruments, it’s a good idea”, greets Georges Zissis, doctor at Toulouse III University. However, they also pose a cancer risk if exposed. Not to put in all hands therefore. “In schools, it is better to open a window,” says the professor, while the SME is counting on 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 relies on the strength of its values: sustainability and made in Corrèze. Maintenance represents 25% of its turnover. “Everything is assembled by hand, repairable and recyclable. We have stock. Years ago, we were seen as enlightened, today we are “pioneers”, laughs Willy Fortunato who resumes at the top of his voice. head the famous words of the group Trois cafés gourmands on the road between two customers: “I have the Corrèze in the catheter”. UV Germi makes it a point to produce in France, and if possible at home. “Because performance cannot be only local”, assures the CEO. The stainless steel bodies of the UV reactors are, for example, manufactured by the family laser cutting company RMA, located 12 kilometers from UV Germi. “Geographical proximity facilitates the work of our offices of studies to improve the solidity, to save material”, says the manager Fabrice Réparat. With a world market reached at 2.5 billion today and 6 billion in 2027, “the prospects are infinite”, assures Willy Fortunato, convinced of the future radiant with its UV rays.
Drinking water in Africa thanks to UV
Beyond the French borders, UV Germi and SCP have joined forces with the 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 infrastructures for its access to drinking water, this will require the treatment of water at the point of use”, designated Jean-Marc Philip. Oshun, -named after the goddess of fresh water-, has already installed 300 Germi UV devices for 215,000 beneficiaries, with devices 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 while providing water 40 times cheaper than bottled water.