On average, 10,000 people in the developed world will generate 1,000,000 gallons of warm waste water per day. That is a lot of warm water. It is typically sent to water treatment plants or discharged into lakes, rivers and oceans. Does this seem reasonable? Or does it sound like an opportunity for improvement?
International Wastewater Systems Ltd. (CNSX:IWS) CEO Lynn Mueller likes to suggest jokingly that people are hesitant to shake his hand when they learn that he is in the sewage business. Nonetheless, when they discover that he can help them save money by recovering energy from waste water that is headed down the drain and transform it into green energy they often change their minds and shake hands with enthusiasm.
The underlying principle is so simple that anyone can grasp it. It takes a lot less energy to heat warm water than it does to heat cold water. When waste water from sinks, showers, toilets or laundry leaves a building, it is usually slightly below the ambient room temperature. In a large production plant, the temperature of the water can be even higher. Ultimately, if the energy from effluent can be captured and reused, then the cost of supplying energy to homes, hospitals, sports complexes, university campuses or large scale plants can be significantly reduced.
A great deal of the green energy movement has focused on reducing consumption. This a noble endeavour that will likely continue. Reduced usage and more efficient usage of energy are always desirable, but conservation alone isn’t a complete answer because, as an economy grows, there will continue to be a need for additional quantities of energy.
That’s why most of the emphasis in the search for a different approach to energy has been directed towards finding clean, alternate sources of energy generation. Up to this point in time, the search for better and greener energy sources has been fraught with problems. Either the cost was prohibitive or the technology suboptimal. In some cases, alternative energy generation like windmills and solar power generation have encountered ancillary environmental issues. Sure, they may not pollute in the classic sense, but not many people want large wind-farms or thousands of solar panels in their backyards.
Mr. Mueller, the founder of IWS, took an entirely different approach to the problem. In essence, assessed the typical assumptions related to the costs and benefits of “greener” energy by framing the challenge in a different way and applying an atypical thought process. Rather than trying to find a unique solution at the input phase, why not consider how to make use of existing heat that might be available, but was being overlooked? An evaluation of the entire cycle of energy usage led directly to considering energy recapture alternatives for the warm water in most sewage discharge. Conventional wisdom was that it would be too costly and too messy to process effluent in an efficient way.
Lynn Mueller’s ingenious solution was to use existing technology, coupled with a proprietary filtration process, to separate waste from grey water and extract the heat from it so that the energy could be recycled. The company, International Wastewater Systems http://www.sewageheatrecovery.com, has successfully developed, commercialized and installed the technology. The products called “Sharc” and “Piranha” are being recognized all over the world.
The company has become a success rather rapidly. Mr. Mueller commented; “We quickly went from being a local, small company to a worldwide operation. We’ve seen markets around the world demanding the product”. Mueller has also disclosed that the firm has over $80 million worth of projects in the works.
Recently, the company was recognized with the AHR Expo 2016 award for innovation. Even CNN deemed the company newsworthy and published coverage of IWS on the network’s financial channel at CNNMoney.com on May 24.
The technology has been proven to be cost-effective and easy to install and maintain. The upfront investment varies depending on the size of the installation. Frequently, grants are available in local jurisdictions to cover capital costs. For example, the $1.1 million system installed at Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority in New Jersey benefited from a clean energy grant that covered more than 90% of the cost.
More importantly, the return on investment is easy to calculate. Andy Kricun, the executive director of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, said they’ll recoup their investment in two years. The IWS Sharc technology has a lifespan of approximately 40 years, which means the savings to this utility could ultimately be as much as $2 million.