December 24, 2006

Most of us don’t think much of the act of flushing the toilet. For wastewater treatment plants, however, the $20 million process of dealing with what goes down the drains from our bathrooms, kitchen sinks, and showers is critically important.

The treatment of wastewater is a necessary but expensive process that is in constant need of improvement. Fortunately, three Israeli companies are doing just that having developed technologies ranging from basic bacteria treatments to sophisticated electro-chemical systems that are improving the process of treating wastewater at a higher quality for less money.

That Israel is leading the way in water purification is not surprising given that some statistics put the rate at which Israel reuses its water at 70 percent, the highest in the world. In addition, Technion Professor Noah Galil who is also the president of the Israel Water Association explained that the Israeli government is devoting significant resources to support research that will help make Israel the leading expert in the world on the topic. An international trade convention has already been planned for October 2007 to showcase Israel’s achievements in the recycling of water for agriculture and wastewater treatment.

“We are in the middle of a mini-revolution when it comes to the level of quality at which we can treat water today,” Galil told ISRAEL21c. “The convention will deal with the subjects of [water] reuse and management in which we [Israel] are already advanced.”

One of the companies helping to spur this revolution is Aqwise Wise Water Technologies which has developed breakthrough technology for treatment at biological cleaning plants, (98% of waster water treatment plants treat biological waste as opposed to chemical waste) according to Galil.

Aqwise’ technologies are biomass carriers 12 mm. in diameter that increase the surface area in the biological reactors at water treatment plant by two to three times their original capacity. In the world of wastewater treatment, a large surface area is important for the growth of bacteria that attach to the contaminated particles in the water during the first steps of treatment as a means of separating the contaminated particles from the water. As the bacteria hit new surfaces, they automatically divide and grow, consuming contaminated particles in its wake.

Using a process called AGAR (Attached Growth Airlift Reactor), Aqwise inserts hundreds of its recyclable plastic biomass carriers into a biological plant allowing both the rate at which contamination is collected from the water and the amount that is collected to increase. According to CEO and president Eytan Levy, Aqwise has patented this technology worldwide and it is already operating water treatment plants in Israel, the United States, India, Australia Europe, New Zealand, Japan and Latin America.

The reason for the technology’s popularity is that the AGAR process allows water treatment plants to expand without having to build costly new infrastructures, Levy explained. “We are selling solutions which typically cost about one-third of the conventional treatments which means a lot of savings for a municipality,” he said.

Experts concur that a wastewater treatment plant typically costs around 20 million dollars to build and upgrades can run into the millions of dollars. The natural growth of populations and new regulations by governments to improve the quality of treatments are forcing many plants to upgrade and expand sometimes within a few years of being built. As a result, cities must find alternative means to meet the growing demands on their plants without actually having to expand their infrastructure.

Another company improving the quality of the process is TreaTec 21, which has developed an electro-flocculation system to speed up the settling process of wastewater. Settling begins after the bacteria have done its work and the now heavy suspended particles begin a slow drift to the bottom of the basin. The natural process works slowly requiring treatment plants to have large basins to simultaneously handle the accumulation of incoming wastewater and the water already undergoing treatment.

To accelerate the settling of the particles, TreaTec has created an electro-chemical process in which metal electrodes in the water release positively charted electrons that attract the negatively charged particles pulling them down to the bottom of the basin. The entire process is conducted without the use of added chemicals which themselves have to be removed from the water before treatment is complete, explained Raphael Nevo, one of the founders of TreaTec.

Nevo estimates that the electro-chemical process reduces a plant’s operating costs by 15 percent. “Since water is now a product with a price, every cent counts and we are saving between two and six cents for every cubic meter of water,” he explained in more detailed terms.

Finally, with all these new systems in place, one might be surprised to learn that an ongoing method to test the actual content of the water on a real-time basis does not currently exist in most plants. Israeli company Blue I Technologies is hoping to change that with the introduction of a system that can take a wide range of analytical measurements in real time and publish the results online using GPRS technology.

The automated Blue I device will allow companies to monitor various elements in water such as chlorine levels, turbidity, temperature, conductivity and PH levels and immediately respond to the results with adjustments to the physical and chemical levels of treatments in the plant.

“Our process is taking all the knowledge being collected and integrating it inside a software which can control the process in the end,” said CEO Tsur Ben David.

Blue I recently completed a successful pilot project with its device on the River Seine in Paris, Ben David said noting that accurate, real-time measurements have applications beyond the reach of wastewater. Blue I is already exporting its device to China, Japan, the US and Europe.

“Today we measure bacteria and chemicals in the water, but soon we will be able to detect a wide-range of poisons in the water,” Ben David predicted. Such application could have wide-reaching effects for municipalities and governments concerned about the lack of tools currently available to protect the drinking supply for the general population, a critical issue in the US amid fears of terrorist attacks.

Sign up for the ISRAEL21c Newsletter

More on Environment

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: