The wastewaters of innovation (literally!)

I recently attended, and exhibited on behalf of PARC, the 84th Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC) in Los Angeles, CA. Billing itself as the world’s largest annual water quality exhibition, this annual event draws 20,000 people from all over the world and has almost 1000 exhibitors.

Because the show provided an opportunity to meet with a wide spectrum of wastewater players — from utilities, corporations, manufacturer reps, and consultants to investors, analysts, and non-profits — I wanted to share some of what I heard while showcasing our hydrodynamic separation (HDS) technology platform. Especially because I think the comments reflect the nature of innovation in the wastewater industry today.

More than feature tweaking

Considering the projected global supply shortage for clean water and market size, and the government and investor interest in water technologies, I was surprised several visitors commented that PARC is one of the few doing something “truly innovative” rather than an improvement on existing products or technology. It turns out that the water industry in general, and wastewater specifically, is conservative: getting a new technology adopted can take years, but once adopted it can take decades to displace.

More than an idea

PARC team, left to right: Leon Wong, Ben Hsieh, Norine Chang, Armin Volkel, Mark Stephenson

Interestingly, one visitor who’s been tracking water treatment innovations that use fluidic forces (like HDS) for quite some time noted that our demo was the first time he’d seen one of these technologies built and working. Ideas are valuable and important, but for us – and our prospective commercial partners – an operating prototype is key in tangibly showing proof-of-concept and making a technology concept a reality. So far, PARC has taken different types of waters from the field and has run them through the HDS technology in our facilities with positive results.

Out of the lab 

Other visitors’ comments pertained to development strategy, and especially the importance of validating the technology “in the field”. While lab data is critical, it is not a substitute for gathering field data. We have been building a manufacturable and robust HDS unit to deploy in the field at actual wastewater facilities.

Innovate at scale

Other comments were about demonstrating scale. Typically, wastewater professionals want to know if the technology can support a capacity of at least 1 million gallons per day (MGD).  Of course, it would be prohibitively expensive to build a 1MGD demonstration. However, I heard remarks that building a field deployable unit to handle up to 10 liters/min was a great start to addressing scalability. In the lab we have gone as high as this, and are using this knowledge to ensure that the field-deployable HDS unit we’ve been working on supports the appropriate capacity. We’re also taking the extra step of working on reducing manufacturing costs since economic viability is an important requirement for technology to be adopted.

…Overall, I came away with the impression that despite its conservative nature, the wastewater industry is looking for innovation and hoping for transformations. A company that takes the time and effort to properly demonstrate and commercialize an emerging technology could reap big rewards. Finally, it was good to validate that our field-deployable HDS unit meets the major requirements for a “minimum viable product” for this industry.

 


 Editor: Sonal Chokshi