The Chilean firm Crystal Lagoons aims to revolutionize the real estate industry with patented technology that allows developers to create huge crystalline lagoons anywhere and maintain them at a fraction of the cost of traditional pools.
Crystal clear water, white sand beaches, palm trees and sun. It sounds like Club Med in the Caribbean, but in the summer months it is also a fitting description of the world’s largest swimming pool in the beach resort town of Algarrobo, just a couple of hours from Santiago.
The US$ 3 million pool, which covers an eight hectare area equivalent to 6,000 backyard pools, was built using Chilean firm Crystal Lagoons’ technology as part of the San Alfonso del Mar condominium project.
Including San Alfonso, Crystal Lagoons has four lagoons in Chile and one in Panama. The patented technology allows real estate developers to build huge crystalline lagoons anywhere while increasing the land’s commercial value.
“We are changing the real estate paradigm which says that location is the key to any project,” said Eduardo Klein, Business Manager at Crystal Lagoons.
Even the desert can be made into an oasis. Crystal Lagoons has licensed its technology to the Egyptian real estate developer Citystars Properties, which is building a huge US$ 5 billion housing project in Sharm El Sheikh.
“This project will have 10 lagoons covering 100 hectares which will create beach life in the middle of the desert,” said Eduardo Klein.
In addition to this project, Crystal Lagoons has projects in construction in Peru, Jordan and Dubai where the Santiago-based firm has opened a second office.
In total, the company has 150 projects in different stages of development in 35 countries with plans to open offices in the United States and Asia in the near term.
Keeping an eight-hectare pool clean is not easy. The Chilean businessman and biochemist Fernando Fischmann founded Crystal Lagoons in 2007 after spending a decade looking in vain for an affordable technology that would maintain his beachfront pool at the San Alfonso del Mar resort.
“The shoreline there is rocky and the water is cold so he needed something different to offer an attractive beach lifestyle for residents,” said Eduardo Klein.
Through a process of trial and error, Fernando Fischmann and his team discovered a technological process that would maintain large bodies of crystalline fresh or salt water at a relatively low cost.
It works by using special sensors in the pool that monitor pH levels and inject chemicals automatically to maintain the required balance.
“Normal pools use large quantities of chlorine to keep them clean, we don’t do that,” said Eduardo Klein.
Crystal Lagoons also uses energy-efficient filtration systems that use 2% of the energy consumed by traditional pools. Its low energy and chemical consumption helped the firm obtain the Chile Verde environmental certification, which is supported by UNESCO.
“Our technology is a combination of everything from the quality of the water we use to how it is treated and filtered,” said Eduardo Klein.
The pools also use only enough water to compensate for evaporation.
“Our pools consume half the water that would be consumed by a park of similar size,” said Eduardo Klein.
Building a Crystal Lagoons pool is not cheap – around US$ 350,000 per hectare – but building a pool over three hectares is impossible using traditional technology.
For real estate developers, a big pool can be a major asset in tempting customers to buy high-priced houses or condos. Since the pools are safe and clean, they are attractive to families with children who can swim, sail or kayak with limited supervision.
“It allows a beach lifestyle in a very safe environment,” said Eduardo Klein.
Crystal Lagoons participates in every aspect of the project from design to engineering and construction. Once the project is completed, the company trains personnel and monitors, via Internet, the water quality.
Crystal Lagoons receives nothing upfront, but is paid a percentage, usually 1-2%, of the developer’s sales.
“We only charge our fee when the developer starts to sell, so it’s comfortable for them,” said Eduardo Klein.
But it’s also good for Crystal Lagoons, which has US$ 600 million in royalties wrapped up in its signed contracts.
“Our project adds value to a new development, and we receive a percentage of that value,” said Eduardo Klein.
The company’s existing projects are in resorts like San Alfonso del Mar and Las Brisas de Santo Domingo, but it is building a 3.5 hectare pool in the community of Padre Hurtado just outside Santiago.
“This is revolutionary, for the first time people living in Santiago will have a beach outside their front door,” said Eduardo Klein.
That’s good news for the project’s developer, Inmobiliaria Aconcagua. In its first weekend, all 50 houses on offer sold and the same thing happened the following weekend.
In the U.S., Crystal Lagoons is in talks with developers in South Carolina and Las Vegas, and it plans to open an office there by early 2011, but no projects are confirmed yet.
The slowdown in the housing market is behind the lack of progress, says Eduardo Klein, “but the U.S. is a very interesting market for us, we just patented our technology there which is great news.”
It took Crystal Lagoons five years to obtain its U.S. patent.
“Intellectual property is respected in the U.S. and it makes it easier to get patents in other countries,” said Eduardo Klein.
Including the United States, Crystal Lagoons is now patenting its technology in 150 countries and has hired U.S. intellectual property firm Marksmen to protect its technology from potential competitors.
Crystal Lagoons pushed for Chile’s accession to the WPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) in 2009, which has made the process of applying for patents in different countries much simpler and cheaper for Chilean firms, notes Eduardo Klein.
“We have paved the way so other companies can follow,” he said.
Crystal Lagoons is also the leading candidate to become the first Chilean company to list on the NASDAQ, which is one of the new government’s goals for the next four years.
“We are evaluating this, it’s an important decision and there’s no going back,” said Eduardo Klein.
Either way, Crystal Lagoons will have plenty of work; the Boston Consulting Group estimates that 14,000 crystalline lagoons could be built in the world in the next 20 years.