From wastewater to profit: Alberta tech company helps communities transform wastewater into revenueNews Type: State, Regional, Federal Source: Edmonton Journal
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Like so many small municipalities, Ponoka, Alta. faces a growing problem every time one of its approximately 7,200 citizens flushes the toilet.
The community—about an hour’s drive south of Edmonton—relies on a lagoon to store and treat its wastewater.
And to say its management is a going concern is an understatement, says Chris Loitz, the town’s water and wastewater foreman.
“Frankly, it can be a bit of a nightmare, especially in the winter.”
Wastewater challenges aren’t unique to just Ponoka. Storing and treating sewage is a problem for small communities everywhere.
Yet Ponoka’s dirty water problem may soon be over after recently hiring Swirltex, an Edmonton based-company that could turn the town’s wastewater into a source of revenue.
Swirltex has developed an entirely new membrane filtration technology that manipulates the buoyancy of contaminants in wastewater, says Peter Christou, the technology’s inventor, and CEO of Swirltex.
“Then we pump that liquid into a tubular membrane and spin it,” he says. “All the floating contaminants then go to the centre of the membrane while all the water stays on the outside.”
Christou says the technology’s potential impact for small communities struggling manage wastewater is enormous. The system can treat wastewater and transform it into clean water that can then be sold for agricultural and industrial uses, including oil and gas drilling.
“What we’re doing is helping communities not only stay in environmental compliance, we’re also creating an economic resource with water that can be reused,” he says.
For remote communities, particularly First Nations, it’s a game-changer because they do not have to buy the technology outright.
Rather, they pay Swirltex a fee-for-service to manage their wastewater.
“This way, there are no significant capital costs involved,” Christou says. “There’s also little risk because on a cost-per-cubic-metre basis, if our system isn’t working, that’s our bottom line at stake, not theirs.”
Small communities can normally only lightly treat wastewater, siphoning it slowly off the lagoon to prevent it from reaching capacity. This limits a municipality’s ability to grow. As well, most lagoon-based treatment schemes present environmental challenges, including the risk of contaminating fresh water resources.
“To be honest, a lot of towns are in real danger of being outside environmental compliance,” Christou says.
But Swirltex’s technology eliminates these challenges by removing contaminants by manipulating their buoyancy.
The system has already proven itself in one of the harshest climates on Earth.
“It was one of those crazy stories,” says Christou, who left a high-paying job in oil and gas to develop the filtration system in his garage. “Seven months after I built it, I got to go test it in Antarctica.”
In fact, the trial at Concordia Station for the French National Antarctic Program exceeded expectations. It not only worked in extreme cold; it was the first water filtration technology to work at altitudes exceeding 3,000 metres.
Christou adds Swirltex’s technology is not just superior to existing lagoon methods, which often do not work well below freezing. It is also affordable, and even profitable because treated water can then be sold to industry.
In fact, that is what caught the attention of the former head of Canadian operations for one of the world’s largest energy firms.
“These types of technology are exactly what the industry needs,” says Jean-Michel Gires, an industry consultant and former head of French firm Total’s oil sands operations.
No need to tell that to the town of Ponoka. It is already ahead of the curve, currently in negotiations with an exploration firm to sell treated water for a nearby drilling operation.
“This technology can definitely work in our favour,” says Loitz, adding revenue is just side benefit.
“Even if it doesn’t generate revenue, it basically triples the existing capacity of the lagoon.”
To learn more about Swirltex’s technology, visit swirltex.com.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Swirltex.