01. 18. 2019, WaterToday.ca
BC leading-edge cleantech solutions treat the toughest organic pollutants on-site
Axine Water Technologies provides on-site wastewater systems that treat the toughest toxic organic pollutants produced by pharmaceutical, electronic, chemical and other industrial facilities. Based on a breakthrough electrochemical technology, Axine systems use advanced catalysts and electricity to oxidize pollutants to harmless trace by-product gases with zero waste generated. Axine’s unique service model minimizes customer capital investment, eliminates off-site trucking and disposal, ensures compliance, improves environmental performance and streamlines operational efficiency.
The following Q&A responses were provided by Jonathan Rhone, President & CEO. Jonathan is an award-winning, serial cleantech entrepreneur. He’s a founder and director of Evok Innovations, a $100 million cleantech venture fund, as well as founder and former CEO of Nexterra Systems, a global supplier of waste-to-energy systems. Jonathan chairs the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance and serves on several private and public sector boards.
WaterToday – Your firm saw a need for toxic wastewater to be treated where the waste is generated, as opposed to shipping the waste to a plant that disposes of the material. Could you inform our viewers what would normally happen to wastewater from a plant without your firm’s technology. Do the companies have to ship the waste water hundreds of miles or thousands of miles? I’m not sure people realize this is what happens. I’m looking to show our viewers that this is a problem.
Rhone -Industrial manufacturers worldwide consume large volumes of water and generates corresponding large volumes of wastewater. Much of that wastewater can be treated on-site with conventional treatment technology and safely discharged. However, thousands of manufacturing plants in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemical, microelectronics, refineries, landfills and others also generate billions of gallons of wastewater each year that is contaminated with toxic, non-biodegradable organic pollutants. These aqueous waste streams are difficult and expensive to treat, are subject to tough regulations and pose health risks to communities and the environment.
When highly contaminated wastewater can’t be discharged to the sewer or cost-effectively treated on-site, it’s collected in drums, totes or tanks; transferred to bulk tanker trucks and trucked off-site for incineration and in some cases injection into a deep well. Special waste incinerators are scattered across North America and are designed to ensure complete thermal oxidation of the organic contaminants using fossil fuel. That’s right, incineration of wastewater to destroy the toxic organic pollutants. Trucking distances vary depending on the proximity of manufacturing sites to incinerators, but we commonly see trucking distances in the hundreds of miles. Multiply that by the number of trucks per year and we frequently see annual miles of wastewater trucking in the tens of thousands of miles.
While trucking and disposal is a widespread practice, it is expensive, higher risk and can cause operational bottlenecks and safety issues. Axine can treat this water on-site, eliminating off-site trucking and incineration. This generates immediate cost savings, reduces the risks, streamlines operations and improves safety and environmental performance.
WaterToday – The backgrounder I read on your site mentions that your system processes tough organics, to the point that the water can even be deposited in a sewer system. Should someone mention that tough organics are processed into what goes into a sewer, it would seem that folks would be alarmed, could you give us some idea of what tough organics are? As a follow up question, how much of these tough organics can your system take out of waste. How do you convince a company that going the sewer route is acceptable.
Rhone -What we mean by tough organics includes a wide range of complex solvents, surfactants, polymers, pesticides, aromatics, pharmaceutical active ingredients and other organics that typically are non-biodegradable. We oxidize the organics converting them to trace by-product gases such as H2, O2 and N2 so the treated water is safe to discharge to sewer or can be reused in on-site operations. If required, we can treat or reduce the organics by 99.99% or to a non-detection level.
To convince a customer that water treated by Axine can be discharged to sewer, we work through a rigorous qualification and verification process. We begin with a paper exercise to evaluate the business case and value proposition. Next, we complete treatability testing at our certified in-house laboratory to test the wastewater to verify cost and performance. Finally, we may undertake a field pilot to validate treatment objectives, cost and performance on-site at the customer facility. Once these steps are completed, we deploy a commercial system.
Once deployed, Axine ensures the wastewater is treated to specified objectives and all discharge permit levels are met with 24×7 remote monitoring, data analytics, periodic sampling and performance reporting. Additionally, Axine employs an on-site field service program with end-to-end maintenance to ensure ongoing operations. This verifies that Axine treated wastewater is safe either to dispose into the sewer or for on-site reuse.
WaterToday – According to research done by WaterToday, you have received federal funds to develop your technologies perhaps you might tell our viewers, who themselves are often in a start-up, some advice about how they could approach funding, it’s always of interest to our viewers.
Rhone -We’ve been extremely fortunate to have received support from Canadian government agencies such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Western Economic Diversification (WED-Canada), as well as from British Columbia government through Innovate BC. This funding has been invaluable in helping to stretch our equity and extend our runway.
My best advice for Canadian cleantech companies seeking funding support is to contact the federal Clean Growth Hub (https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/099.nsf/eng/home), which was established by the federal government as a single point of access for cleantech companies seeking access to federal government cleantech programs. I’d also recommend that cleantech companies also contact the agencies directly including Provincial government agencies. Most of them have experienced team members who can help with inquiries and provide input on proposals. Finally, talk to other cleantech companies and industry associations about which programs are available, which ones are a good fit for your needs and to get ideas on how to optimize non-dilutive funding options.
WaterToday – The press release your firm just put out last week, was about United States sales, is this a growth area for your firm? I’m not so much looking for it’s a bigger market, more on the regulatory difference between the US and Canada, states and provinces there are big differences in pfoa regs, would this type of regulatory differential be a problem or advantage to your products and services?
Rhone -The US is a significant growth market for Axine. Not only is it a very large market but wastewater is also highly regulated with a well-established system of federal, state and local regulations and discharge requirements. In particular, the US Clean Water Act and the amendments to the act made over the years, has created a very powerful regulatory framework in the US that is augmented by state and local municipal discharge regulations. We generally find the US to have more stringent industrial wastewater regulations than Canada. Tougher US wastewater regulations is beneficial for our company because it requires manufacturers to comply with higher standards for wastewater treatment in a market that’s much larger than Canada.
WaterToday – Cost is usually a big factor in new and developing technologies, could you give our viewers an example in real terms of savings using your technology versus what exists right now? To a certain extent, it startles me that this shipping stuff still goes on if tech is available to solve these issues on site.
Rhone -Agreed. Cost is important and it’s important for us to be able to offer customers direct opex savings in order to win service agreements. Savings are site specific, but typically we can provide savings in the range of 20%, 30% or even 40% to our customers compared to what they are currently paying for trucking and disposal. We’re also able to offer additional value including eliminating trucking, reducing risk and liabilities, improving worker safety, minimizing waste, streamlining operations and improving environmental performance. By eliminating trucking and incineration, we can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. diesel fuel and natural gas), which is important to some customers. Finally, under our unique “wastewater-as-a-service” service model, Axine finances, owns and operates the systems which are located at the customer’s site and they pay a set monthly service fee. This delivery allows customers to generate immediate savings while minimizing their capital investment and technology risk.
WaterToday – Oxidizing water has been around for sometimes, what is it that your process is radically different or terminology, your oxidizing tech is different from what other firms call oxidizing?
Rhone -Correct. Oxidation of wastewater to break down contaminants has been used successfully for many years and there are several different oxidization techniques known as advanced oxidation processes (AOPs). The most common AOP uses chemical oxidants such as ozone or hydrogen peroxide sometimes in combination with ultraviolet light (UV). Other less commercially developed solutions include plasma, irradiation and catalytic ozonation processes. Axine’s solutions are based on a proprietary electrochemical oxidation technology which uses advanced catalysts and electricity to oxidize and break down pollutants into harmless by-product gases such as nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen. Compared to traditional AOP systems, no oxidation chemicals are required, no other waste or by-products are generated and as a result, our treatment solutions can apply to a much wider range of market applications at a lower cost.
WaterToday – If you could, perhaps give us an idea of how many people you expect to be hiring in the near term (two years) and what sort of skill set these future hires should be looking to build? With so much talk about automation and AI rendering some skill sets as redundant is this where your industry is going as well? Be curious to hear your views.
Rhone -Over the next two years we expect to hire anywhere from 25 – 50 new positions depending on speed of scale-up. Roles are across the board including sales, customers service, lab technicians, project engineers, assembly technicians, product development and finance and accounting. AI, data, automation and machine learning are megatrends impacting virtually every industrial manufacturing supply chain. At Axine we’re beneficiaries of these technologies because we’re incorporating them into how we work, using newly automated business processes and we’re also incorporating them directly into our solutions. For example, automation and data analytics enable us to remotely monitor and report on the performance of our treatment systems. As we collect more data, we will adopt machine learning into our solutions to provide predictive capabilities.
WaterToday – In places like Las Vegas, South Africa, Brazil there often is no extra water, given the drinking water shortages that occur almost daily now, how much of a sales tool is the water reclamation claim.
Rhone -There’s no doubt that water reuse is a growing trend driven by factors such as water scarcity, water security, higher costs for fresh water, escalating discharge fees, etc. For Axine, we find that the importance of water reuse varies from region to region. For example, in areas like California and the southwest US it’s very important because they are experiencing drought and so the impact of water scarcity is magnified. In fact, water reuse was a primary goal for one of our customers in California, a multinational computer electronics manufacturer, who previously trucked their solvent-contaminated wastewater off-site for incineration. Once we installed the Axine system on-site, they’ve been able to reuse the treated water in their cooling towers. Overall, water reuse is really just another form of efficiency, which drives long term competitive advantage and most companies have goals for reducing costs, eliminating bottlenecks and improving operational efficiency.
WaterToday – A final question for you, our viewers are users, and developers of renewable energy and could you give them an idea of how much electricity your systems use? It would be interesting to see a carbon credit discussion around this technology.
Rhone -Good question. The amount of electricity consumed by our systems varies depending on the application and the total mass of organics we’re removing from the specific wastewater stream. For example, in a stream where we’re treating a low concentration of organics, the total electricity required could represent <2% of the annual service fee. In other cases, where we’re treating a high concentration of organics, the total electricity required could represent >10% of the annual service fee.
In terms of carbon footprint, this also depends on the application. In cases where we’re eliminating trucking (reduces diesel fuel) and incineration (reduces natural gas) with Axine (adds electricity), we’ve generally seen a net reduction in GHG emissions. The algorithm for GHG reduction, however, is based on variable inputs such as trucking distance, volume of water incinerated and the source of electricity used to operate the Axine system.