AN IRISH company is leading an international revolution in the way we treat our wastewater.
For the past 100 years governments and local authorities in countries across the world have used the same aeration system to clean their sewage and industrial wastewater before pumping it out into our oceans and rivers.
This year Oxymem have launched a product which transforms that system – which has “served us well” but was “highly inefficient and expensive” the Athlone-based company’s Wayne Byrne told The Irish Post this week.
“Simply put Oxymem solves operational expenses for intensive wastewater treatment,” Canadian-born Byrne, who was brought up in Dublin, explains.
“The reason that needs to be solved is because for the last 100 years we have relied on a wastewater treatment technology that consumes between two and three per cent of the electricity production of a developed nation,” the Managing Director adds.
“In other words, to take sewage or industrial wastewater to a standard that it can be put out to the oceans or the rivers you have to put it through a process, which to a greater or lesser extent has been typically biological to date.
"That has basically meant using microorganisms to break down that waste water so you can release it to these bodies of water. Traditionally that has meant using large aeration tanks, where the bacteria relies on breaking down the pollutant, in the presence of oxygen. And in order to get that oxygen to them, you create a bubble.
"But creating and delivering a bubble is actually quite expensive. It’s not a very efficient way of doing it and although it has served us well over the last 100 years, more and more authorities are now concerned about how much energy is being wasted in the process.”
Luckily, for the past 15 years researchers at University College Dublin, supported by the Enterprise Ireland (EI) organisation, have been working on a new way of completing this water purifying process, which is far less expensive and far more efficient.
With the help of more than €600,000 in financing from EI, the finished product was launched last year as Oxymem - which uses a membrane rather than a bubble to get oxygen to the bacteria used in the water treatment process.
“Oxymem is a game changer in some respects,” Mr Byrne admits.
“But in others, it’s not really deviating from the current application. Basically, we are not just firing oxygen into a tank, we are delivering it directly.”
The benefits of the Oxymem product are already being enjoyed by companies across Europe, with Britain’s water industry among the earliest of adopters of the technology.
In 2014, their first year of operation, the company turned over €300,000 and served six customers, the most significant of which was Severn Trent Water – which supplies fresh water and treats sewage for roughly eight million people living in the Midlands.
Oxymem have been working with the company for more than two years, with one of their units installed at their Birmingham base.
“Severn Trent Water has been very supportive of our technology and took on our largest installation at their Birmingham location in September,” Byrne admits.
But the company has plans to spread their geographical influence quite dramatically over the next 18 months.
“This year we are looking at increasing our production capacity, which is already up fivefold on last year. But also we are looking at 2016, where we plan to increase our manufacturing footprint another five fold,” Byrne confirms.
“We are certainly looking west and east in order to achieve that. The South American markets are very attractive and we expect one of the first ventures we will have will be south of the US border,” he added.
“We are also looking east, as there are very significant opportunities in India and China.”
Either way the company expects to continue its success story, as the worldwide wastewater industry is introduced to the Oxymem offering.
“Our product is the most efficient oxygen delivery system on the planet - it’s a great product and ultimately this type of technology will become the mainstream technology of choice,” says Byrne.