P4 Infrastructure: Digitizing stormwater infrastructure

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

P4 Infrastructure is one of a growing list of local water tech companies shaping the future of water management.

Founded in 2018 by PhD level Civil Engineers Christopher Foley, Nicholas Hornyak, and Joseph Diekfuss, the company has created a way to track and monitor the function and health of the structures designed to manage stormwater.

A graduate of both gBETA and The Water Council’s BREW Accelerator programs, the company holds 14 patents related to technology it developed to monitor and gather data on the physical structures in a city. P4 recently moved its headquarters from downtown Milwaukee to a more manufacturer-friendly location in Brown Deer to support the growing demand for the company’s innovative monitoring sensors.

MKEStartup.News sat down with company CEO Dr. Christopher Foley to learn more about how P4 Infrastructure is quietly impacting how municipalities manage stormwater.

MSUN: What does P4 Infrastructure do?

CF: We turn the performance of stormwater infrastructure systems into actionable data. We do that through intelligent selection and installation of sensors, design, and manufacture of all the computer hardware needed for those sensor systems, and design and programming of the computer software systems required for cellular-based transmission of the data stream to reliable and curated data lakes for use by P4 and its customers.

The data from the sensor network goes into the cloud where P4 acts like “plumbers” ensuring the data is reliable and curated for customer use.

We are data people, and we provide real data where people didn’t think you could get data. We have developed methods to acquire water level and infiltration data below a permeable pavement’s surface, measured water level and infiltration in in underground storage tanks, have developed economical control systems for rooftop detention of stormwater, have novel systems for measuring water level and infiltration in surface stormwater ponds, and have systems for measuring performance of biofiltration systems.  We’re stormwater people.  Our products provide customer solutions in five stormwater infrastructure market segments: below-ground, surface, on-structure, permeable pavement systems, and biofiltration systems.

MSUN: What inspired you to leave academia and launch P4 Infrastructure?

CF: I created a class at Marquette called Introduction to Infrastructure.  I did a small section on financing of the civil infrastructure systems and that led me to understanding what a public-private partnership is and having private companies provide public infrastructure as a service.

And, as I spoke and taught, I thought ‘how do you know it’s (the infrastructure) performing the way it’s supposed to so that you’re actually providing the intended service as the private company to the public sector?  If the infrastructure system is going to be managed and operated by a third-party after a concession period, how do you know the health of the infrastructure system?’

Public-Private Partnerships (P3’s) often include performance payments and concession periods after which the infrastructure’s operation and management is turned over back to the owner, or another third party. Documenting performance and documenting conditions at the end of a concession period are data-driven. If you have no data on the health of the infrastructure, if it’s not performing the way it’s supposed to and you’re not monitoring and measuring that with a data-centric approach, then you’re not going to get your payments for performance the way that you should and you may be turning over a dysfunctional piece of infrastructure to others.

There are also newly emerging concepts of credit trading. Stormwater volume credit trading is emerging in many major urban areas, like Chicago and Washington, DC.  Stormwater pollutant credit trading used to comply with the EPA Clean Water Act more economically has been adopted by many states across the U.S.  The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in California also allows groundwater re-charge credit trading to be used.  Data is the core and the central aspect of all this.  

MSUN: How will the data P4 gathers impact how water is managed?

CF: If you walk into a wastewater treatment facility or a drinking water supply facility, they look a lot more like a NASA control room than they used to 100 years ago.

Stormwater facilities look like they did 100 years ago, but the technology is now there to turn it into something more like the wastewater and drinking water facilities.  This is what P4 is doing.

We can monitor how stormwater systems are doing. We can measure how they’re performing. In the end, we want clean surface water. We want to be able to capture more surface water and ensure that it’s treated in the appropriate way.  We want to have stormwater infrastructures be better at mitigating flooding and eliminating surface water pollution.

One way to ensure that’s happening is to measure what’s happening. The modeling we have right now is less than stellar, and it’s because nobody’s ever had data before.  P4’s data will lead to vast improvements in the design of stormwater infrastructure systems as well.

P4 Infrastructure is a revenue-generating company. In 2019, P4 signed its first customer, the City of Appleton. Since then, the company has gained clients from Stockton, California to Hempstead, New York, and everywhere in between.

The company is in growth mode. After raising an undisclosed amount of capital, P4 plans to open a new fundraising round in 2023. The capital will be used to increase sales and marketing efforts to support P4’s scaling efforts.

To connect with P4 Infrastructure, or to learn more about this growing company, click here.

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