Oxymem: Accolades aplenty for UCD water purification spin-out

Firm has developed a new form of delivering oxygen in wastewater purification

From left: Dr Eoin Syron, technical director, Wayne Byrne, managing director and Prof Eoin Casey, OxyMem chairman

From left: Dr Eoin Syron, technical director, Wayne Byrne, managing director and Prof Eoin Casey, OxyMem chairman

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 01:00

A UCD spin-out founded just last year is in line for a hat-trick of major innovation and industry awards in 2014 alone. Oxymem began this remarkable run back in April when it won the overall ‘Innovation of the Year’ Award at the 2014 Irish Times InterTradeIreland Innovation Awards. The company followed this accolade last month by winning the first Water Innovation SME Award in Europe for Membrane Technologies at the Water Innovation Europe 2014 conference in Brussels.

And it has just been announced as one of only nine companies established by academic entrepreneurs to be shortlisted for the sixth annual Academic Enterprise Awards. The Academic Enterprise Awards are the only pan-European awards dedicated to spin-out companies emerging from universities and public research institutes.

“We have been doing very well on the accolade side of things”, says Oxymem chief executive Wayne Byrne. “They give us a great opportunity to stand in the light and they have definitely opened up doors for us. They have a cascade effect and The Irish Times Innovation Award was particularly important as it put us on the map with potential partners who would not have been aware of our existence before that.”

The company has developed a revolutionary new system which can reduce the operating costs of wastewater treatment plants by up to 75 percent as well as bringing other significant improvements in terms of ease of deployment. These gains are achieved through a complete re-engineering of the means by which oxygen is delivered to the process which is the result of research carried out over the past decade by Prof Eoin Casey and Dr Eoin Syron of UCD’s School of Chemical and Bioprocess Engineering.

The wastewater treatment process uses bacteria to break down the waste substances in water. The micro-organisms require oxygen which is normally supplied through a highly energy-intensive forced aeration system which sends bubbles of compressed air through the bottom of the treatment tank. This technology has been in use for a century and has not been subject to any significant changes during that period. It is extremely inefficient with less than 30 percent of the oxygen supplied being transferred to the wastewater in a typical plant.

Gas permeable membranes

The Oxymem system abandons this method completely and uses gas-permeable membranes located in the tank itself to transfer the oxygen to the microbes. In effect, it involves a series of hollow tubes made with gas-permeable silicon which allows oxygen to pass through it but not water. The bacteria adhere to the outside of the tubes where they can take in the oxygen while doing their work on the waste.

The system is delivered as a sealed container and more or less just has to be plugged in. “We are currently shipping the units as packaged treatment plants and that’s the plan for the next few years”, says Byrne. “These small packaged treatment plants are suitable for populations of between 500 and 2,000 so they can be used for villages or small towns. We will build those for the next year or two at least. The time will come when we start looking at much larger plants to meet the needs of 10,000 or even 100,000 population sizes.”