Trailblazer: Cameron Lippert, Co-Founder, ElectraMet
The trail he's blazing: A powerful chemical free water treatment platform for industrial operations. It provides a no hassle, environmentally protective way to remove heavy metals from wastewater. The below article is a summary of the Podcast Interview.
Hamilton Harbor in Hamilton, Canada is one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world (see main image). After 220 years of industrial abuse, there's enough carcinogenic sludge at the bottom of Hamilton Harbor to fill several hockey stadiums.
"Most wastewater treatment solutions use chemicals," says Cameron Lippert, CEO of PowerTech Water and their flagship product - ElectraMet. "Chemicals create sludge that traps all the heavy metals. Then, instead of millions of gallons of polluted water you have tons of polluted sludge."
You can burn it, but it creates greenhouse gases. You can put into a landfill, but it leaches back into the groundwater supplies. In this interview he explains how to avoid either fate.
Q- How do heavy metals get into water streams?
A - There are three main sources. These include natural causes, direct industrial pollution and consumer trash. The metals already in the ground come from minerals and natural causes. They are often found in groundwater and your tap water. No one is to blame for these natural causes.
"The bulk of heavy metals come from industrial operations and consumer waste."
Metals from pollution include industrial facilities and mining. Think of chemicals used to make steel. Their facilities have lots of metals. They use water in their manufacturing processes and that goes down the drain.
A good chunk of what we call pollution comes from these industrial facilities. They have a variety of processes that create wastewater. Some of their products contain metals, and that also goes down the drain.
Then there are the products sold to consumers. When these are thrown in the trash, they often end up as landfill. When it rains, metals leach back into the ground and end up back in the water supply. So, the bulk of heavy metals come from industrial operations and consumer waste.
Q - How are hazardous metals removed from wastewater?
A - Existing technology lets you do anything you want done with water treatment. The questions a business must ask are: What's the cost? How big is the device? Does it cause more pollution?
"Both of these solutions put more the pollution back into the environment."
Regulations exist from the EPA in the US. Other countries have their own regulations on what is acceptable to put down the drain. Companies will treat their water to an acceptable level of pollution. This is then dispersed back into the environment or the drinking water. Most companies already have a water treatment solution. Or, the amount of metals they create is too small to matter.
Most wastewater treatment solutions use chemicals. The chemicals create sludge that traps the heavy metals. Instead of millions of gallons of polluted water, you have tons of polluted sludge. Though the processing becomes easier.
The sludge is usually put into a hazardous waste landfill or burned. But both of these solutions put more the pollution back into the environment. When burned it creates greenhouse gases. When put into landfill, it leaches back into groundwater supplies.
These solutions are not sustainable. And that’s we’re trying to do with our technology and products. We want to create a sustainable solution to treat wastewater and pollution so it is completely removed from the environment.
Q - What are the risks to wildlife and human health?
A - When heavy metals get into the environment they are devastating. You may be familiar with the movie, Erin Brockovitch. That was about a specific type of metal called Hexavalent Chromium. It polluted into groundwater and caused serious health issues including birth defects and cancer. It’s bad stuff.
"You could see this murky, orange, nasty looking water for miles down steam. It devastated wildlife."
Other metals like copper come from mines. This is devastating to aquatic life and wildlife in general. No amount of metals should be put into the environment or water streams. We had a huge issue in Colorado with the Animas river.
One of the mines had a lot of water trapped in a dam that contained lots of heavy metals. The dam broke and the polluted water flowed into the river. You could see this murky, orange, nasty looking water for miles down steam. It devastated wildlife.
There's likely some permanent damage in that area. There's is no safe amount of metals you can put into the environment.
Q - What are the legal implications for a business?
A - Industrial facilities have permits that tell them how much they can put down the drain. If they are out of limit and violate their permit they get a fine. If they continue to violate the permit, they can get shut down and lose their ability to operate and make money. There could be criminal liabilities if they knowingly pollute.
"Consumers went after the business with civil lawsuits."
That's what happened in Erin Brockovitch. Consumers went after the business with civil lawsuits. It's rare, but in the absolute worst case an owner could be liable. Most situations we see involve fines for missing permits. And the they get shut down until a solution is in place. And if you miss your permit once, you’re on the EPA’s radar.
The EPA would now be coming to your facility more often to sample your water. They would want to make sure you won't violate your permit again. It's a burden to deal with regulators in your facility disrupting your business. Miss your permits, and it will reduce your productivity.
Q - What advantages does ElectraMet provide?
A - Anything you want to do with water treatment can be done today. The question is what matters to you most. Is it your capital costs? Operational costs? Do you want to be green and sustainable? Or do you want an easy-to-use solution?
"We’ve taken the people and the mistakes out of the equation."
That’s where ElectraMet comes in. Legacy systems have lots of tanks, pumps and chemicals. These are labor intensive and complicated. And when there's people involved, mistakes happen. Then you get fined and shut down.
We eliminated this risk by automating the process. We've built our system from the ground up with automation in mind. This includes IoT and machine learning. You don't have to babysit your system because our sensors and your computer let it run by itself.
You get warnings if something is out of spec. It's the number one reason customers like our product. We’ve taken the people and the mistakes out of the equation. You can count our system to prevent you from violating your discharge needs, or your permits.
Q - How does a business track their results?
A - Every legacy system already has tracking in place. A sample of wastewater is sent off to a lab to be analyzed so the company knows it meets spec.
Most places also have an internal analysis lab. But these reports are not certified, so they can't meet permit requirements. But it's used for spot checks to ensure the waste can be dumped.
"Our product lets you know it's operating at peak performance."
Since our system has sensors in place, we know it's working as it should. With a legacy system, there’s no way to know whether it’s working or not. You must do constant spot checks and send them to the lab.
Our product lets you know that it's operating at peak performance. You can trust it’s going to meet your permit needs. You know you're getting all the metals out of the water, and you know you will not get fined or shut down.
Q - How does ElectraMet work?
A - It's an electrified carbon filter. Carbon filters are standard across the globe. They are good at absorbing stuff and taking it out of the water. What we're doing that's different is using more like a reactor or a battery. When you flow water through our filter, we zap it with a little bit of voltage. This pulls the metals out and traps them in the carbon filter.
Q - Can you share a client success story?
A - Toyota is our biggest client. They have many wastewater streams in one of the manufacturing buildings at their Kentucky plant. They wanted to be able to reuse their water for other sustainability goals. But it was being dumped down the drain.
Not only were they paying to dump it, they were paying to have more water brought in. We automated their process which sent six wastewater source points to a central location.
"The lack of automation from their legacy system was their biggest pain point."
ElectraMet purifies it to their specifications. Then they send it back to one of their reverse osmosis units to get pure water, and put it back in their paint line.
Now they now have a circular economy and closed loop system for reusing their wastewater. And it's clean to their specs. It gets turned into their product water for use in their process.
The lack of automation from their legacy system was their biggest pain point. They had multiple locations in their basement and it was hard to get signals. Floods were preventing their previous system from working. We fixed it, automated it, and now it's easy to operate.
Q - Is there any news about your business you want to share?
A - ElectraMet is our main product, though we have several SKUs. These include systems for copper and gold, as well as nickel, zinc, and lead.
"We got our first two patents granted this past year."
We got our first two patents granted this past year, which was exciting. We have several more pending so our patent portfolio will expand. The first two patents were for the US and China. India and Europe are coming soon.
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