Past Innovations to Present Wastewater Technologies

I explore today the pathway to innovation, by looking back 20 years. My thesis is that the path to the future is founded on understanding the past.  I believe that we are today witness to unprecedented changes in wastewater technologies. For you to prepare for the future, your best tool today is the MABA Annual Symposium, two weeks from now in Wilmington, Delaware.  You can register on line: Annual Symposium and Meeting 2015, Biosolids: The Sustainable and Recoverable Resource, Wednesday, November 4th, and Thursday, November 5t.

I was inspired after WEFTEC to delve back into the 1998 publication by the Water Environment Research Foundation, Biosolids Management: Assessment of Innovative Processes (Project 96-REM-1). This document, which reviewed 110 technologies, is apparently no longer available, but I have a copy and still refer to it. At WEFTEC, I had picked up “tid-bits” about a number of technologies, and wanted to see how their evaluation in this WERF report compared to their apparent destiny.

This was only my more recent return to this WERF document. I had referred to it in my Biosolids in the News blog titled on “Lessons Learned”.  I had written breezily about Oxyozone and EcoTechnology as technologies, promising two decades earlier, that had withered. I mentionedMicronair/Cannibal as a curious combination of successes and failures. And I had noted how thermal hydrolysis, only embryonic in 1998, was now the wunderkind of biosolids innovation.

My argument in “lessons learned” is that our industry would advance innovations faster and further if the results of new technology installations, both successes and failures, were transparently shared, rather than hidden away.

The chatter at WEFTEC that perked my ears had to do with abandonment of technologies that had been a part of the WERF review. One example,“pulse power” technology for treating sludge feed to digesters, was reported in the WERF document to have gone through full-scale testing at a Florida plant in 1996. At WEFTEC I heard that OpenCEL, the brand name expression of this innovation, had been "shelved" by Trojan UV.  Former sales guy Harry Simmond said "Trojan just couldn't seem to get it to work."

The 1998 WERF report had many technologies for dewatering and drying biosolids, which are no longer marketed. The innovative “Filter Press/Dryer,”reported at that time to have had a full-scale commissioning in Germany in 1996, has as its U.S. brand Evoqua’s (formerly Siemens) JVAP Dewatering and Vacuum Drying System.  Its reference facility in Chattanooga, TN, had challenges and I have no tangible evidence that the technology is any longer marketed here.  WERF’s innovative “Electroosmotic Dewatering” seems to have evolved into Ovivo’s CINETIK Linear Electro Dewatering equipment, but in a recent check with Ovivo, the technology has been “sold to a German company.”   Centridry, also in the WERF report as Centridry, a combination centrifuge and dryer, seemed like a strong technology marriage; though perhaps still offered in Europe today, Centridry is apparently absent from the U.S. marketplace.

Big ideas in dewatering seemed hard to bring to market. I can guess the reason is because the marketplace values reliability and low operational problems more than it values high cake solids. But this is just a guess. It would be good to know.

A variety of other technologies in the fertile 1990s have mostly disappeared from the U.S. biosolids marketplace. These include Minergy, the KADY Process Kinetic Dryerelectro-arc gasificationdeep shaft wet air oxidationPORI ST, microwave conditioning, vermicompostingelectron beam irradiation, and many others.  Why did they leave us? Do you miss them?

A few seem to have their representative U.S. facilities, but perhaps never really moved outward, as the filled unique niches. This may be true withZimpro Wet Air Oxidation, offered by Siemens and represented at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission in Newark, NJ, and the Microwave Dryer, offered by Burch Hydro as BioWave, and represented by installations at three small Ohio plants.

And some innovative processes are hanging in and may still find a niche. This might include Sludge MASTER IRC as the RDP-Fenton Drying System, theSuper Critical Water Oxidation as the SCFI AquaCritox in Orange County, California, and OCI Waste Conversion as Anuvia Plant Nutrients (formerly Vitag) nearing completion in Florida.

Others seem to be on a solid solids path. The golden example is Cambi’s development of thermal hydrolysis.  But there are also classes of technology described as innovative in 1998 as rotary screens, rotary presses, screw presses, and ATAD. These are relatively familiar technology names in the biosolids field.  BCR Environmental’s The Neutralizer seems to be the descendant of “High-chlorine Oxidation.” Bioset chemical stabilization is there with its Schwing Bioset Process.

Then we have today’s innovative second cousins of 1998 technologies. KORE Infrastructure’s biosolids-to-fuel pyrolysis system is at the state today that the WERF-reviewed “sludge-to-oil” technology was 20 years ago.  PHG Energy has inherited from MaxWest the best efforts to date to harness gasification for conversion of biosolids to energy.

Interesting in this revisit to the “innovations” of 20 years ago are some technologies not foreseen that today occupy so much of our conversation.

I am particularly intrigued that the words “co-digestion” do not appear in the WERF document.  Now you can’t avoid the topic.  The opportunity to operate treatment plants with supplemental organic loadings was not in the lexicon of biosolids management a mere two decades ago.

I am also interested in the Los Angeles’ Terminal Island Renewable Energy Project, or T.I.R.E. project.  This operation, which has injected over 150,000 tons of biosolids cake a mile deep offshore, is not the same as the WERF-describe deep-shaft wet-air oxidation or Vertad. This is an anaerobic intended to capture methane. The others are aerobic. This was not on the radar in 1998.

I may have gotten the lineage of some technologies wrong here, and I may not have accurately represented the current status of emerging innovations. But in my defense, I would invite us all to create a common archive of technology innovations that permits a clear genealogy of our treatment processes and particularly the circumstances for their unique failures and successes. My gut tells me that the discipline of such a recordkeeping effort will be more than lessons learned. I believe that the Past is the Path to the Future.