Israel’s Applied CleanTech recognizes sewage as both a vital resource and energy source and is saving it from going down the drain.
It may not make for dinnertime conversation, but sewage – human, agricultural and industrial – is an enormous untapped energy source. It represents some of the world’s finest biological matter, and in America, as elsewhere, it is literally going down the drain.
Recognizing sewage as a resource and alternative source of energy, Israeli company Applied CleanTech is ready to commercialize its mechanical and chemical solution that separates sewage into raw materials like cellulose and oil. The company further aims to collect every bit of solid waste that ends up at the water treatment plant, and recycle it into valuable raw materials.
With its product Recyllose, Applied CleanTech recently shared the news with US company Qteros that it can take raw sewage and transform it into a feedstock for ethanol fuel production. Applied CleanTech is also working with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology to produce ethanol using chemical and heat fermentation. While these are impressive R&D projects, the real story of Applied CleanTech is much more extensive, says company CEO Israel Biran.
Applied CleanTech’s Sewage Recycling System (SRS) reduces a sewage treatment plant’s solid waste output by about 60 percent. This means the company can increase treatment plant capacity so that towns and cities can handle population growth without building new plants.
Recycling wastewater solids is the name of the game, the company tells ISRAEL21c, and it has a ready-to-market solution designed to fit right onto existing wastewater treatment plants. Poised for commercialization and currently setting up a plant in Israel to service 15,000 people, Applied CleanTech has already completed its beta site pilot testing at three sites, one of which was in Ohio. And within the next six to seven months it will be ready to set up installations in the US.
Oil from grey water
The idea started, “as a means to locate a new resource for recycled cellulose,” Applied CleanTech president and CTO Refael Aharon tells ISRAEL21c. “Mainly we were focused on agriculture residue, like corn stalk. Then a few years ago we realized that if we were already collecting the material, why couldn’t we do the same for cellulose in the sewer system?”
Doing the math, about 40 to 50 percent of the solids in the sewage system are made from cellulose fibers. Taking into account that humans don’t digest cellulose, and that numbers can change depending on whether the plant serves Manhattan or an industrial zone, about 10 to 15% of these cellulose fibers in sewage come from our excrement, while the rest – about 85% – come from toilet paper and other cloth fibers that are flushed away. Cellulose is a raw material that can undergo a chemical process to become a valuable biofuel known as ethanol.
Applied CleanTech also collects oil from water, which poses a huge problem for farmers using recycled grey water for irrigation. The oil in the water creates a hydrophobic soil, meaning it doesn’t interface with water very well.
“There is about 100 mg of oil per liter of water in the Israeli sewer system, and less in the US, because they use twice as much water for flushing in their toilets,” says Aharon, who admits he is fascinated by the concept of sewage recycling.
“We see this as a big source of raw materials. It’s a revolutionary solution for the wastewater industry as the main issue with the industry is dealing with the formation of sludge,” he asserts.
Sludge is costly to deal with and it limits the capacity of a treatment plant. “When we extract the cellulose and the oil, which are the hard-to-digest materials in the treatment plant digesters, then we make the wastewater treatment more efficient,” Aharon explains. This also means that carbon credits can be generated.
Complex process, simple business solution
“First we reduce the amount of energy and chemicals needed to treat sludge and are able to reduce more than 60% of the formation of sludge. We reduce all the steps as well and remove the need for polymers and chemicals,” he says.
Collecting their raw materials at the plant before the digestion process, Biran and Aharon say they can increase a plant’s wastewater handling capacity by 30 to 40%.
Their process is complex but their business model is simple. At the moment there are two options: Either Applied CleanTech finances the add-on at the plant and over 20 years the plant and the company share revenues in energy savings costs, or wastewater treatment plants buy a unit and collect the raw material dividends for themselves.
“Thankfully,” says Biran, Israel “is very open to advanced technologies, and this enables us to set up the first commercial plant in Israel. The long-term dream is to recycle everything from wastewater including minerals, proteins, and other unique materials.”
Applied CleanTech is based in Hadera, not far from Haifa, and employs a staff of six. The company has been financed with $2.5 million by Saturn, a VC, and private investors. Applied CleanTech is now looking for strategic partners.