04. 19. 2016, The Province
Vancouver company’s water purification system has a ready market
Vancouver-based Axine Water Technologies is hoping it has the solution to a $20-billion global problem.
The company is deploying the first of its electrolytic waste water treatment reactors this June to customers in the U.S. Northeast, Texas and Pacific Northwest in the microelectronics, pharmaceutical and chemical industries as a pilot phase with an eye to beginning commercial operations by 2017.
“Waste water is a huge problem for refineries and all kinds of manufacturers that use billions of gallons of water in their process,” said Axine CEO Jonathan Rhone. “Disposing of waste water is becoming more expensive and more highly regulated that ever, because it is a threat to communities.”
Managing water contaminated with ammonia, formaldehyde and other toxic organic compounds is an expensive and risky process, but one that industries from electronics to pharmaceuticals must contend with daily. Complex cocktails of waste may require multi-step on-site processing, or more often, trucking water off-site for incineration or deep well injection.
Rhone — a former oil industry executive and founder of the waste-to-energy systems manufacturer Nexterra — estimates that industry spends at least $6 billion a year treating or disposing of water polluted with toxic organic compounds in North America alone.
“Our goal is to disrupt that whole waste water transport value-chain,” he said.
Axine’s reactors use electrochemical reactions to break the bonds that hold together long-chain organic toxins, reducing them to harmless elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Contaminated water simply flows over an electric cell covered in a nano-catalyst made from engineered metal oxides and precious metals.
“We break up these compounds using electricity and we don’t produce any waste,” said Rhone. “Our customers cannot only treat their waste water, they can then reuse that water in their own facility. That’s a really big deal in many parts of the United States where the cost of fresh water is increasing dramatically.”
Many of the leading clean-tech venture capital groups are betting Axine’s low-cost solution is a game-changer, particularly for the water-guzzling fossil fuel industry.
Vancouver-based Chrysallix, BDC Venture Capital, California’s Roda Group and others have invested about $7.7 million in Axine to date and the company is about to launch another round of financing for an additional $6 million to $8 million to fund two additional pilot installations. When the time comes to scale up to commercial production another $100 million will be required, Rhone said.
“Axine offers a unique and disruptive solution that addresses significant challenges throughout the oil and gas value chain — from oilsands to refinery effluent — offering exactly the type of breakthrough innovation I believe this industry needs to realize the true energy opportunity, while preserving the environment in the process,” said Jean-Michel Gires, a venture partner with Chrysallix and a former oil industry executive.
“We are ready to go to market with our first commercial units,” said Rhone.
The pilot reactor — a self-contained unit about the size of a refrigerator — has been tested with waste water shipped in from the field to approximate real-world conditions at the firm’s facility at the University of British Columbia, where 10 test reactors are running 24/7 treating water shipped in from potential clients.
The pilot reactors are going to tackle ammonia contamination, aromatic hydrocarbons and mixed organic compounds.
“We are going to be doing pilots over the next year at multiple locations on the West Coast, the Gulf Coast and the East Coast with leading companies in the semi-conductor industry, the chemical industry and the pharmaceutical industry,” he said. “They all have the same problem.”
Rather than selling their reactors, Axine will own and operate the units on site as a service, deploying as many units as necessary to treat the volume of water required.
The firm will run six-cell reactors — large enough to treat up to 100 gallons a day — to prove the concept and then install 50-cell units to scale up to commercial volume.
“It’s very modular, so depending on a customer’s needs, we might use 10 or 100 (reactors),” said Rhone.