From industrial waste water in China, to Canadian sewage systems and the Ganges River in India, a raft of South Australian companies are taking their sustainable water-cleaning technologies and selling them to the world. By Andrew Spence and Caleb Radford.

Micromet – Gearing up for mass production

Staff from Adelaide company Micromet spent much of August in the major port and industrial city of Ningbo in China testing the company’s Generation 3 water treatment machine, which uses electrolysis to remove pollutants from contaminated water such as sewage, grey water, and industrial effluents. The in-situ tests are a pre-cursor to the establishment of a mass production model in Adelaide.

Micromet Engineering Sales Director Andrew Townsend said the Gen 3 device could treat the desired two litres of water a second, adding that its one-tank design enabled mass manufacturing at a relatively low cost. According to Townsend, Australian products have a good reputation in the water treatment space in China.

“They are very happy with ‘Made in Australia’,” he says.

Micromet’s process uses continuous flow electrolysis methods with special anti-passivation technology that has eluded such systems in the past. The Micromet equipment is also very energy-efficient, using just 0.25KWH to process 1000 litres compared to a reverse osmosis system that can require 20-40KWH to process the same amount.

Micromet has been manufacturing mainly irrigation control technology in South Australia for two decades. However, it was forced to look for new opportunities in wastewater treatment when the Millennium Drought almost brought the company to its knees.

Until now Micromet has been mainly focused on wastewater treatment research and development, producing only a handful of commercial bespoke machines. The new plant will aim to produce 50 six-module machines a month within a year.

“What Micromet has developed is a fair bit cheaper in terms of the actual machine in the first instance and on top of that is a fair bit cheaper to run than most other types of systems,” says Townsend. “We’re up to Generation 3, we’re imagining Generation 4 will be our first solar-powered model, and Generation 5 we’re hoping will literally be able to float on a dam, be powered by solar and treat the dam while floating on it.”

Micromet took a prototype machine to China in November and successfully treated three highly contaminated industrial wastewaters – electroplating water, machining emulsion and garbage permeate as part of a demonstration. Non-industrial water treatment applications include sewage and mining waste such as fracking water. The treated “A Class” water can then be reused in factories or mines or used for irrigation. The pollutants removed from the wastewater account for about 6% of the original volume.

“My hope is that we can eventually get to the point where we can return the treated water to the environment,” Townsend adds. “Water doesn’t wear out – many factories will be able to use the water again and again.”

Micromet signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chinese industrial group Dadongwu in March. Dadongwu is a partially state-owned industrial group based in Huzhou, south-west of Shanghai. It has a wide range of business interests including construction of hotels and ports, automotive manufacturing, and water treatment technologies. Dadongwu is directly investing $2m in Micromet while the SA Government has given the company $26,000 to develop and implement a marketing and brand strategy for Australian and international markets.

Townsend points out that the Chinese Government has made water and air pollution a priority in its five-year plan.

“That’s a massive market for us because at the moment there’s no incumbent technologies,” he says. “It’s estimated that China will make up 50% of the world water treatment market over the next five years. We’ve estimated that our slice of the pie could be anywhere up to $20bn Australian dollars over the next five to seven years.

“India is also going gangbusters so when we’re trying to plan this facility we don’t want it to be just maxed out producing machines for China, we want to have some additional capacity to supply other markets as well.”

It is not the company’s first international venture. Micromet partnered with a Canadian business to create a joint venture called Living Sky Water Solutions in 2014 after Canada’s Water Security Agency outlawed the “lagooning” method of treating effluent in small communities. In February it signed a deal to build a one megalitre-per-day wastewater treatment plant for the prairie town of Kerrobert in Saskatchewan.

“We have another five (Canadian towns) on the books in various stages of negotiations,” Townsend says. “And the number of communities over there that need a service similar to ours is about 1,800 so we estimate the potential value of Canada to us is about $1bn over five to seven years.”

Hydro-dis – Cleaning up the Ganges

Another SA company kicking goals in the water treatment industry is Hydro-dis Water Treatment Systems. The company, based in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, has developed a new device that provides immediate disinfection, improves the efficiency of metal removal and includes residual chlorine to reduce contamination after treatment.

Hydro-dis’ treatment technology uses insitu electro-catalytic generation of chlorine to disinfect water and can be used for various industries to treat potable, non-potable and wastewater. The unique technique creates chloride ions from salt already present in the water even when it is present in very small amounts, making it suitable for freshwater and saltwater sources. The device also works to prevent scaling and fouling.

The company has several machines operating in rural areas in Western Australia. It is ramping up production in Adelaide with the aim of targeting international markets.

Managing Director Mark Carey travelled to India in August as part of a SA delegation to the arid state of Rajasthan to help provide water disinfection solutions. The company was also invited to provide advice for cleaning up the Ganges – India’s holy river. He says the Hydro-dis technology was a simple alternative to other contemporary treatment methods and would be highly beneficial for rural communities.

“We are reducing environmental footprints, health and safety in the workplace, and costs across the board,” says Carey. “Our product is in the same boat as ultra-violet (UV) and ozone systems because it has immediate killing power but we provide a residual to chlorine, which gives the water a level that meets the standard of drinking water.

“In a rural community with a gas plant (to treat water), once the gas runs out they have to keep replenishing it – trucks are having to travel out there all the time and refill the gas station.”

The machine can be attached to a pipe so that dirty water flows in one end, is treated and then flows out the other side clean. Systems are scalable and can churn up to 10m litres a day. In July, Hydro-dis was awarded the Water Treatment and Re-Use Award for its disinfection technology at the 2016 Smart Water Awards in Adelaide.

Factor UTB – IoT-enabled wastewater treatment

Adelaide company Factor UTB was also recognised at the awards, for Excellence in Environmental Practice. The company has developed technology that uses the Internet of Things to alter the treatment environment for winery, industrial and municipal wastewater.

Factor UTB CEO Rex Gibbs says the monitoring technology allowed the company to target and strengthen the bacteria that cleaned the water in holding tanks. He explains that native bacteria that attacked organic pollutants and excess nutrients in wastewater were harvested from sewage pipes, winery drains and waste streams.

“Then we train them up like Olympic hopefuls so they do what we want,” Gibbs says. “We are achieving nutrient results that are far better than almost anything else that is being produced. We are also able to achieve this at less than a dollar of chemicals per kilolitre treated.”

Beyond the wine industry, the company has also built water tanks for Acacia Prison in Western Australia – the nation’s largest correctional facility. Factor UTB uses 3G networks to access water tank controls to manipulate the environment. It is also able to control the pumps remotely across large distances.

Tanks are fitted with sensors to detect pipe leaks, which can send an immediate notification to company personnel. The tanks are also fitted with probes and sensors to detect changes in alkalinity or oxygen levels and automatically adjust settings to optimise water treatment.

“We remove about 90% of the pollutants and then when re-treated we remove 90% of what’s left,” says Gibbs. “The treated water can be used for many things without further treatment.

“The biggest tank we built for a winery is in Marlborough (New Zealand) and is about 1800sqm. If an Adelaide home churns through 500 litres a day, the one in New Zealand can churn about a 22,000-house equivalent.”

Gibbs says Factor UTB is in talks with wineries in South Africa.