Two years ago, we brought our fully biological, advanced wastewater treatment solution, Nereda®, to the United States. Even with continuous strong interest in aerobic granular sludge technology, North America surprisingly was the only continent without installations. Since introducing the technology as AquaNereda® in North America, a lot has happened and going into this year’s WEFTEC, I took a moment to look back on the last two years and distill some lessons learned.
1. Make it American
Wastewater deals with a precious resource and the environment. This naturally makes people in the wastewater sector risk-averse. Because of this, the question I always got was: “Sounds great, but will it work on my wastewater?” 25 years of research and 10 years of full-scale applications make the technology well-established across a wide range of conditions and locations, but nothing compares to an in-country reference. As part of our strategy we work with American business partners and a major accomplishment of our main partner Aqua-Aerobic Systems was the construction and operation of a 200,000 gallon demonstration facility in Rockford, Illinois.
Not only does this facility show good performance on typical wastewater, it is used by Aqua-Aerobic Systems for research to push aerobic granular sludge applications to new heights. With other installations on the way soon, aerobic granular sludge plants are active in various climates, for various wastewater types (municipal, industrial) and in different States across the U.S. So – yes, it will work on your wastewater in America and you can get it delivered by our American partner. Our ambition is adoption of the technology via partnerships and we excel when they do.
2. Demonstrate cost savings
In Europe and Asia, energy savings and a very small footprint are key drivers for aerobic granular sludge solutions. It is easy to assume these benefits would also drive the American market. However, with overall lower energy costs and more space available, other drivers often become the differentiating aspects. The robust character (ability to deal with shocks and extreme loading), lack of moving parts (just one reactor, no mixers or circulation pumps), ease of operation… often I don’t instantly know what drives interest. One thing however always surfaces: AquaNereda is cost-competitive. As a result, we see that early adapters are not necessarily in urban areas, or those regions with a strong focus on sustainability. We see strong interest in the Midwest and the South, where a-typical loading conditions or cost-savings are key. And who doesn’t like cost savings?
3. Listen to the operators; and deliver for them
One of our first American clients gave me a free life lesson: “Operators don’t talk bulls**t.” And, it’s true. People in sales – like me – are obviously biased. Of course I love the technology (and yes, I really feel this will change the world for the better). However, those who operate the plants will tell you the truth.
When I was introduced into this sector I learned a lot from my colleagues experienced with the development of Nereda, some for 20 years, and I was fortunate to meet and learn from enthusiastic experts like Prof. Mark van Loosdrecht and Dr. James Barnard. Still, I probably learned the most by listening to the men and women that work on the plants. They are our ambassadors and will gladly tell you what their day looks like and their experiences. Those that transitioned to operating Nereda plants are excited about the ease of operations and they are (over-) achieving the targets. We are already seeing this with the first operators in the U.S. as well. At the upcoming WEFTEC conference, operators from Australia and the U.S. are scheduled to share their experiences. So, don’t listen to me, talk to them to learn the real benefits.
Global progress: looking at resource recovery and beyond
While we worked to get aerobic granular sludge introduced in the U.S., a lot has happened with the Nereda technology outside North America. In two years, the number of plants operational or under construction has doubled to more than 50. New large-scale facilities are to be announced in Asia, South America and Europe.
The technology’s inventor, professor Mark van Loosdrecht, received another prestigious award: the Stockholm Water Prize and, ongoing research now explores resource recovery options.
I have no doubt that in the next year we will see further innovations in aerobic granular sludge come from North America. So, with that in mind, there is still a lot of exciting work to do and I am confident AquaNereda will take off in North America and get recognized as a game changer in water treatment.