First published in Cleantech magazine, Volume 6 Issue 6. Copyright Cleantech Investor Ltd. This is an abridged version of a report published by Cleantech Investor in January 2013: DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT
By Denis Gross
The growing pressure on clean water supply is forcing the re-evaluation of wastewater as a resource rather than just something that needs to be disposed of. The industry niche which is emerging as a result is being addressed by Bluewater Bio, a developer and aggregator of water and wastewater treatment technologies.
Bluewater Bio was founded in 2007 by serial entrepreneur Daniel Ishag, who was previously the co-founder in 2000 of London-based Espotting Media, a pioneer of pay-per-click advertising on Web search engines. Daniel remarks that “water, and especially wastewater, have until recently been seen as the poor relations of the cleantech family”, but he and his team have succeeded in combining the talents of successful entrepreneurs with technologists having exceptional R&D expertise in the water sector to alter this perception. This mix of skills has created an exciting stand-alone water technology company that is conspicuous in the traditionally conservative industry, and one which brings an Internet mindset to product development and growing the company, including the creation of strong branding and the exploitation of social media and the Web.
Bluewater Bio’s product range is focused primarily on the rapid upgrading, optimisation and monitoring of water and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). The technologies reviewed below are expected to be augmented considerably thanks to the management team’s strong technology scouting (enabled by an extensive academic and industry network) and the company’s partnering capability.
The starting point: HYBACS®
Bluewater Bio was founded to develop a biological solution to the treatment of wastewater called HYBACS – HYBrid ACtivated Sludge. This patented technology, the origins of which in South Korea go back almost two decades, provides a cost effective and rapid solution for upgrading activated sludge plants, which account for approximately 80% of sewage treatment sites globally.
HYBACS delivers low cost removal of nutrients – total nitrogen and ammonia – via a process comprising two biological steps, followed by a clarification stage in which the wastewater is held in tanks or basins for a period of time, allowing solids or other materials suspended in the water to settle to the bottom. The first stage is the Shaft Mounted Advanced Reactor Technology (SMART™) unit, which contains the attached biomass on mesh-based plates that, through rotation, leads to significantly higher transfer rates of oxygen and pollutants to the biomass. The second stage is conventional activated sludge.
This process is highly suited to upgrading existing activated sludge plants, allowing increased loads to be treated with an end product that complies with the most stringent European nutrient removal standards. In achieving this, HYBACS occupies around half the footprint and cuts the power consumption associated with aeration by up to 50%. The modular construction means it is a scaleable solution that can be quickly deployed, with attractive CAPEX and OPEX benefits.
Bluewater Bio has a licensing agreement with Suez Environnement subsidiary Infilco Degremont, a lever with which to open up the North American market for HYBACS. An early step in this process was incorporating the product in a mobile 6,000m3/d demonstration plant at United Water’s Princeton Meadows site in New Jersey. These specially designed tanks can be trucked to different locations, allowing the plant to be assembled and disassembled and moved between sites easily.
In a major breakthrough for the commercial roll-out of HYBACS, Bluewater Bio is carrying out a US$20 million contract in Bahrain to upgrade and expand the Tubli wastewater treatment plant, the largest of its kind in the country serving a population of around 800,000.
The expansion utilises 42 SMART units, treating an average wastewater flow of 100,000m3/day (equivalent to 303,000 population), significantly improving the quality of the effluent of the plant.
Severn Trent wastewater treatment
Following a two year evaluation period, HYBACS was chosen as part of an upgrade to one of Severn Trent’s wastewater treatment plants in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, serving both municipal and industrial customers. Europe’s first commercial HYBACS installation was announced in July 2012, comprising four SMART units which were constructed and tested off-site before being safely and rapidly lifted into position.
In addition to demonstrating a dramatic reduction in footprint and leadtime, and hence a significant cost saving compared to established technology, Bluewater Bio is allowed to share all data, and to use the Severn Trent site as a reference. Bluewater’s containerised evaluation plant at Severn Trent’s Coleshill WWTP near Birmingham allowed fine-tuning of the technology to deal with a range of feedwater and temperature fluctuations – including freezing conditions in the winter of 2010/2011.
The success at Ashbourne has proved to be an invaluable reference site for Bluewater Bio in the UK, leading to heightened interest from other UK water companies, consultancies and contractors.
In Autumn 2011, Bluewater Bio acquired the high performance multimedia filtration technology from FilterClear Ltd of Scotland. In addition to its applications in water re-use and wastewater treatment, Bluewater FilterClear’s technology has been used successfully in desalination pre-treatment, with a large reference plant at KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia. The Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWRO) plant at KAUST has been producing water since April 2009, with FilterClear providing an entirely chemical-free pre-treatment. FilterClear has over 40 references in the municipal and industrial fields, including an installation at Diageo’s Glenlossie Distillery to prevent fouling of the plant’s cooling tower by reservoir water. Most recently, the effectiveness of Bluewater FilterClear’s technology in tertiary sewage treatment was highlighted at a demonstration plant operated by one of the largest UK water and sewerage companies.
FilterClear uses up to four media (all naturally occurring materials) of differing particle size and density, arranged as shown in the diagram.
The layers of media include two fine surfaces for improved filtration, one of which has a positively charged surface for adsorbing organic materials, and is manufactured to provide greater voidage (hence holding capacity) and higher loading rates, with the result that these filters are more cost effective than the competition and produce higher quality filtrate. Thanks to the high loading rate, fewer or smaller units are required, with a resulting notable reduction in footprint. Again, in common with HYBACS, FilterClear enables reduced CAPEX, OPEX and whole life cost.
While Bluewater was founded on HYBACS, with applications in municipal and wastewater re-use, FilterClear, which can be used with HYBACS in projects to enhance water quality, provides a broad range of water and wastewater treatments. HYBACS sales cycles are long, while FilterClear sales cycles tend to be shorter and more regular. This allows the company to utilise its technologies to ensure sustainable revenue growth.
Potable Water Treatment
The Cranfield link
In 2010, Bluewater Bio acquired Water Innovate, a technology transfer spin-out from the Cranfield University School of Water Sciences, a global centre of excellence for wastewater technology. Under the terms of the acquisition, Bluewater Bio gets dedicated time from the academic staff and a five year rolling agreement which provides the company with access to Cranfield’s own research pipeline of advanced wastewater treatment technologies.
Water Innovate specialises in monitoring and modelling systems for wastewater treatment works. These in turn enable operators to control emissions such as odour and greenhouse gases with the aim of increasing efficiency, meeting compliance requirements and reducing environmental impact and costs.
One product developed by Cranfield − N-Tox®, a toxicity monitoring system that provides early warning of plant failure − has been developed under Bluewater Bio's ownership into GHG-TOX, covering a broader range of greenhouse gases.
Bluewater Bio has built up a strong management team and external partnerships, including a technology alliance with Thames Water which gives the company access to the utility's key commercial customers, information base and R&D facilities. The recent past has seen valuable reference projects (e.g. Severn Trent Water) achieved which can be expected to open more doors in the UK and overseas markets.
In addition to successfully developing its own IP, Bluewater Bio is aggregating other technologies and building up distribution reach through its partnerships to deliver utility scale water and wastewater treatment projects. Commercial and industrial applications including food processing are seen as big business opportunities, and meeting the needs of those markets will underpin Bluewater’s drive to further broaden its growing technology portfolio.
In the twelve months to March of this year, Bluewater Bio secured more than £27.5 million in private equity funding. This included an investment of £22.5 million by specialist cleantech investors Ombu Group and Hermes GPE Environmental Innovation Fund in March 2012, which the company believes represents one of the year's largest growth capital finance rounds in the water sector.
Daniel Ishag - Chief Executive Officer
Dynshaw Italia - Chief Financial Officer
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