Waste-to-Energy project in Thailand treating distillery wastewater
ADI Systems has been specializing in the design and construction of industrial wastewater treatment systems for over 30 years. Berni Chapman is a wastewater treatment specialist with ADI Systems, who has extensive experience in waste-to-energy projects particularly in the food industry, everything from initial laboratory and pilot scale testing through to detailed design. Angela McClowry from Cleanleap recently interviewed Berni to discuss wastewater treatment in emerging economies.
Angela: Lets kick off with an overview of your role with ADI Systems, and some of the things that you're doing?
Berni: I'm from ADI Systems Asia Pacific, a company that specialises in industrial wastewater treatment and waste-to-energy solutions. We work largely in the food and beverage industry, which produces a lot of organic wastewater. We're usually treating that with anaerobic digestion, which means, you're breaking down the organics in the wastewater and you're producing a biogas, which can be used for energy. The Asia Pacific office was established in 2011, and focuses on projects in Southeast Asia, including Australia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and right across through to South Africa. Currently we are building projects in Australia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Our company has three main offices. Headquarters is in Canada, where the company first started. They tend to focus on North America, and across into Europe. We also have an office in Brazil, which works in the South America region. Originally, people from the Canadian office used to travel all over the world. Then, as market demand grew, we set up the Asia Pacific and South American offices so we can be closer and more reactive to our clients’ needs.
Angela: Sounds, good. Okay, then, so what is some of the work that you've been doing specifically, then? Can we hear some more detail about your projects in Asia?
Berni: I'll give you a bit more background to the Asia Pacific office, in particular. Most of the people based here came from a company that was called Waste Solutions. It was also based in Dunedin, New Zealand. We essentially covered the same set of markets, but worked mostly in developing countries. So we worked on developing low cost technologies for treating organic wastewater. The focus there really was energy production, and using that as a mechanism to get the wastewater treatment in place. Obviously, you're helping the environment, because previously the wastewater was just being discharged. You're reducing polluting effects on the environment, and you're also bringing in the positive of the energy production and, of course, job creation. Therefore, energy was really the main driver of all the projects we did, and we developed a technology that's really suitable for developing markets, where typically, low cost is really important, but also, you've got a bit more space and land area available. What we developed was a really robust, simple to operate system. It's very cleverly engineered, which makes it really easy for the plant operators to run. You don't need a high level of manpower to keep our systems operating well. This type of technology has been taken up very well in Southeast Asia. We're working there with the starch industry. Cassava is a big crop in Southeast Asia for starch production, and also palm oil. These types of systems can handle pretty high solid waste, including things like cattle manure as well. It's really good for any organic waste. You can get rid of all your waste, recover the biogas, and treat the wastewater.
Angela: That all sounds great - it has the win-win of being able to make it financially sustainable, as well, too. This leads into my next question - What are the biggest opportunities for wastewater to contribute to a Cleanleap?
Berni: I think that's where the cunning design and clever engineering come into play, which makes it really simple to operate. Because, effectively, you're benefiting the environment, you're getting your energy, but you're also creating a system that people can operate easily and that is reliable. It works well, too, when you're trying to bring things like this back to more developed countries like Australia. The projects we typically work on in Australia are with an industrial factory. The dairy industry is one of our biggest clients in Australia. Their focus is making milk or milk products, or cheese, and now they've got to handle the wastewater, and it's a skill set that they don't necessarily have. They can benefit from a simple technology that somebody who's not necessarily an expert in wastewater treatment can make work.
Angela: Yes. And so then, you positioned this so its also a lower cost approach, too. It can be something that could be developed to help emerging economies?
Berni: That's right. Effectively, you're excavating a hole in the ground and using that as your tank to house your reactor. Basically, that makes it really low cost construction, because instead of having to build concrete walls, or have some sort of metal tank, and it saves on your construction costs a lot.
Angela: That's good to hear. We have touched on my last question. What technologies/approaches have you seen in developing countries that might contribute to Australia’s wastewater sector?
Berni: It's mainly having something that's simple to operate. People often get very excited about new, cutting edge technologies, and improving or increasing throughput. Actually, that's not always the best solution. For instance, if you've got a really small site, and you're trying to fit your wastewater treatment on it, then a high rate, sophisticated system with a small footprint is necessary. It works where you've got a specific requirement pushing you towards that, but it often makes things more complicated, and they can be very hard for the people to operate without a high level of experience and expertise. I like keeping it simple, but effective. It has to work.
Angela: What are the biggest risks to a Cleanleap in wastewater, from your experience?
Berni: People often want a cheap solution, and there's a difference between cost-effective and cheap. The trouble with cheap, is that they're often short-cutting somewhere, so you get things that don't work properly, or don't have longevity. That's the biggest risk in all of the developing markets. We end up facing companies who will offer a really cheap solution, but we know it's not robust. They don't support it, they walk away, and then the whole industry gets a bad reputation.
Angela: By having that secondary market of energy, this sounds like it would help people to create a more sustainable option.
Berni: A lot of our systems that have been built are still running 20+ years later, so that's quite an important feature of them. A great example is our first project we did in Thailand. There was a large amount of biogas that was generated and making electricity, and the value of doing that means that they paid off the project in only two years.
Angela: Thank you so much for your time, Berni, I really appreciate that.
Berni: Thank you!