By Kevin Westerling,
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Perhaps that’s why water and wastewater innovation is thriving — the needs have overwhelmed the status quo. Growing populations demand increasing levels of water supply and treatment, but infrastructure funding and renewal often lags behind, creating a funding gap in the hundreds of billions in the United States alone. Technology and innovation can help narrow that gap, however, by offering more efficient, effective, and economical alternatives to conventional methods.
As one who champions water innovation and covers it daily, I was excited to see which companies would be named to the sixth annual Global Cleantech 100, announced in October. Nearly 6,000 private companies were considered by a panel of 84 business and finance experts. The panel was tasked with identifying for-profit companies that are most likely to have a significant impact in the next five to 10 years. Water and wastewater was directly represented by 12 of the 100, and another company was so closely tied to our industry that I would be remiss not to mention them. If you missed the full report, or simply want the CliffsNotes version for water/wastewater, you’re in luck — the 13 are compiled below…
Cleantech tag line: Developer of a low-cost, chemical-free solution for treating toxic organic pollutants in industrial wastewater
More detail: Targeting the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, chemical, and food and beverage markets, Axine uses an electrolytic oxidation process to clean high-strength wastewaters while keeping capital and operating expenses (no chemicals/low energy) in check. It is designed as a modular, adaptable system capable of treating high chemical oxygen demand (COD) levels of recalcitrant organics up to 10,000 mg/L, as well as biodegradable organics, ammonia, sulfur, bacteria, and pathogens.
Cleantech tag line: Developer of reverse osmosis water desalination projects
More detail: Desalitech has developed a novel system — a reconfiguration of conventional reverse osmosis (RO) desalination — that greatly improves performance and capacity in roughly the same footprint. It provides 97 percent recovery of permeate and uses less energy in the process, resulting in lower operating costs. Learn more about CCD applications and benefits here.
Cleantech tag line: Supplier of containerized water treatment systems to industrial, municipal, resort, and aboriginal clients
More detail: FilterBoxx focuses mainly on industrial clients, providing both process water and wastewater solutions in a “box,” or packaged container, but also offers on-site drinking water treatment. The customized units may contain either conventional or advanced treatment technologies — whatever the situation calls for. That’s the appeal: turnkey services delivered anywhere (in the U.S. or Canada) for virtually any treatment need.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of cloud-based utility-to-utility solutions for municipalities to manage water systems
More detail: FATHOM is largely based on the idea that as water prices go up (considered a forgone conclusion), customers will want to know why. FATHOM provides a platform, via automated meter reading (AMR), to bring data to both the supplier and end user. For the utility, it's data to operate their facilities, manage leak loss, and ensure proper billing; for the customer, it's data to understand their consumption and manage their behavior.
Cleantech tag line: Developing the world's leading technology solutions for optimizing the performance of water distribution networks
More detail: If you have a smart meter network, i2O makes it even smarter by offering Smart Pressure Management. Like a SCADA system on your distribution network, the technology manages all aspects of pressure management in order to achieve pressure optimization. In that sweet spot, customers get their desired water pressure, but over-pressurization issues such as leaks, pipe bursts, and elevated energy consumption and operational costs are minimized.
Cleantech tag line: Developer of thermal process modules for various water and wastewater applications
More detail: I’ve often heard membrane distillation talked about excitedly, but with tempered expectations because the technology was seen as far from being commercialized. However, memsys may be leading the charge toward practical, widespread utilization with its thermal separation process based on membrane distillation. The multi-stage process recycles energy to reduce costs, and is scalable for many applications — not just limited to desalination.
Cleantech tag line: Developer and manufacturer of innovative biocatalytic technologies in water, wastewater, and chemical sectors
More detail: The smart people at Microvi specialize in genetic engineering and molecular biology. Specifically, and as it relates to water, they “synthetically design the microenvironment of a biological system to optimize enzymatic processes” (so says their website). In other words, they supercharge the bugs in biological treatment systems to enhance performance. According to the company, this results in in a 70- to 80-percent reduction in operational and lifecycle energy costs compared to existing methods.
Cleantech tag line: Developer of a forward osmosis platform for desalination, water treatment, and waste heat recovery
More detail: Yet another desalination technique targeting the industrial market, forward osmosis is a long-talked-about, innovative approach that has finally come of age. Oasys has been at the forefront of development and commercialization of the process, which uses a semi-permeable membrane and a "draw" solution, rather than hydraulic pressure, to separate water from dissolved solids (salts). It provides results like reverse osmosis, but with much less energy. Learn more about forward osmosis here, and about the forward progress of widespread adoption here.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of Fixed-Bed Biofilm Activated Sludge (FBAS) wastewater treatment plants in urban and residential population centers
More detail: As water recycling becomes more of an imperative, companies like Organica Water are competing to develop the most efficient means to clean wastewater to reuse standards. The Organica Food Chain Reactor (FCR) system pretreats influent before sending it through a “biological cascade” of anoxic and aerobic reactors, each equipped with a proprietary biofiber media and plant roots to. The biofilm cultures that develop within each reactor ecosystem adapt to decreasing nutrient concentrations, and a final disinfection step can be added to achieve reuse-quality effluent. According to the company, the system uses the least amount of space and as little energy as possible.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of solutions recovering phosphorus and nitrogen from used water streams and transforming them into environmentally responsible, slow-release fertilizer
More detail: Ostara is a name that has been floating around for some time, achieving brand recognition at an early stage for the wastewater-to-fertilizer concept — a sustainable treatment scheme that takes nutrients out of wastewater and repurposes it at much-needed fertilizer (phosphorus being a finite resource). The process greatly reduces sludge volumes, helps utilities meet nutrient discharge limits, and provides a revenue stream through the sale of commercially available fertilizer. It has been adopted by a number of municipalities, including Chicago, establishing a proving ground for others to follow suit.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of membrane-based water treatment technology
More detail: Membranes are the go-to technology for many applications due to their versatility and separation ability, and so the race is on to manufacture the best of the breed. China’s Scinor Technology has entered the discussion with a PVDF ultrafiltration membrane based on thermally induced phase separation (TIPS). According to the company, these membranes offer high flux, low energy consumption, easy maintenance, and the ability to withstand chemicals — all the important elements/challenges of membrane treatment operations. For drinking water applications, they achieve 4-log bacteria removal efficiency, and they’re equally suitable for wastewater, desalination, and reuse applications.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of a web-based platform that monitors water distribution networks and alerts in real-time on inefficiencies, water loss, faults and other network problems
More detail: As instrumentation and communication technologies have progressed, aging distribution systems have degraded, creating the need and opportunity for strategic decision-making through asset management. TaKaDu offers a cloud-based Integrated Water Network Management system that relies on advanced statistical and mathematical algorithms to not just collect data, but translate it into “actionable insights.” It informs both day-to-day operations and long-term planning decisions, and can be implemented at a utility within weeks.
Cleantech tag line: Provider of a technology to convert biodegradable material to renewable energy
More detail: The semi-outlier on this list (hence out of alphabetical order) is Cambi, which is not included in the Global Cleantech 100’s “Water & Wastewater” category, but rather in its own “Biomass Generation” section. Perhaps that’s because it’s a singular technology. Cambi’s Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP) enlists high-pressure steam pretreatment and anaerobic digestion to create pathogen-free sludge, or biosolids, as well as methane. The biosolids can be used as a fertilizer or biofuel, while the methane can be used for cogeneration purposes — as energy to help run the plant. This is exactly what’s happening at DC Water, one of the nation’s more progressive utilities.
Companies such as Oasys, Ostara, and Cambi have already made huge strides and may be familiar names, but they share equal footing on the Global Cleantech 100 with start-up and early-stage firms. The common thread is that the technology behind each company has been deemed commercially significant based on the needs and trends within the market. If Cleantech Group’s 84 enlisted experts are correct, these are the next decade’s game-changers.