Solution to Some of Industry’s Toughest Toxic Metal Containment Problems
Texas AgriLife Research has developed a novel chemical treatment technology that significantly reduces many key industrial contaminants from wastewater. It allows industries to meet the most stringent environmental regulations for toxic metals like selenium, mercury, arsenic, chromium and others, plus it reduces contaminants such as nitrate, some solvents (including chlorinated compounds), atrazine, and others.
Initial patent filings have been completed, and commercialization of the technology is under way. This technology is based upon utilizing zero-valent iron. The breakthrough came when Dr. Yongheng Huang, a Texas A&M assistant professor in Biological and Agricultural Engineering whose work is supported by AgriLife Research, discovered how to overcome the loss of reactivity that occurs with similar systems because the active iron surface inactivates due to electrochemically passive iron oxide formation. Dr. Huang developed a novel composition of oxides that allows ions in solution to maintain electrochemical contact with the active iron surface and promotes reduction of toxic ions, which then are incorporated into the solid particle for easy separation from the water.
The process can operate at neutral pH and is robust in chemical reaction and process control parameters. It requires no exotic or costly chemicals or materials of construction. The process engineering is straightforward and compatible in both components and footprint to existing industrial plants. The reactions proceed rapidly, and the process has shown exceptional performance in extended field tests in the pilot equipment (flow rates of 2 to 4 gallons per minute) shown in adjacent pictures. This work has been carried out in collaboration with a major power producer at two of their coal-fired plants in which selenate (a very difficult-to-treat form of selenium) needs to be removed from the flue gas desulfurization effluent. Further work is planned and supported at another power facility that has higher levels of selenate and other contaminants.
Commercialization is being taken forward by AgriLife Research and the Office of Technology Commercialization through a Texas A&M University System initiated startup company, Camris Technologies Corporation. The Texas A&M University System is exclusively licensing to Camris the intellectual property (the initial international PCT patent filing and a U.S. CIP patent filing). The intellectual property portfolio is expected to expand rapidly as Camris supports further intellectual property development and research as well as the scale-up and applications development. Initially Camris will focus on three main industry groups: coal-fired electric power producers, mining operations, and petrochemical refinery operations. This technology has applications in many other industries with water contamination issues — oil and gas, municipal water supply, semiconductor, metals, etc. — especially as the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations take effect in 2014. Camris is led by a CEO with 18 years of leadership experiencein the energy and chemical industries, including a $200-million company buyout in his last role as COO/CFO.
AgriLife Research and Camris Technologies have engaged with strategic partners who are either major equipment suppliers or major turnkey water treatment providers with excellent channels to market. Demonstrating the technology with end-users in real-time applications, as is being done in the power industry, is convincing others about the capabilities, robustness, and low capital/operating expenses of the process. Investor reception has been excellent, and funding for engineering scale-up and continued intellectual property development appears solid.
The scale-up and demonstration work continues in both laboratory work and field trials. This work is being funded by the end users and does not require company working capital. Camris’s first funding round (estimated to require $2 million to $4 million) is expected to close by the end of 2011. Looking forward, the exit strategies include acquisition by a water treatment company or sublicensing a major portion of the applications markets and retention of a focused few markets into which the company can expand and capture significant market share. This company expects to be cash-flow positive in 2014 and generate sales of more than $300 million by 2016 with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization at about 15% to 20% of sales.
Advantages over conventional technology
- Simplicity: Requires no complicated or expensive pretreatments or post-treatments. Can be added to end of existing wastewater treatment systems (settling ponds, chemical/physical systems).
- Versatility and Robustness: A single process removes most toxic metals and metalloids from industrial waste streams.
- High Removal Efficiency: Reduces selenium and mercury to well below restricted limits.
- Low Operation and Maintenance Costs: Uses common, inexpensive, nontoxic substances (such as zero-valent iron) and process design/materials of construction that are not complex or costly.
- Limited Sludge Production: Operates at near-neutral pH, which reduces chemical consumption and limits sludge production.
For more information about this new technology, contact Yongheng Huang.