Turning waste into revenue streams

Innovation awards finalist NVP Energy: taking wastewater from production lines and turning it into an energy source

NVP Energy's technology turns the wastewater from industrial and other processes into an asset by cleaning it and creating gas for use in combined heat and power systems and other applications. The revolutionary anaerobic digestion technology was developed in the NUIG Department of Microbiology over a 10-year period by Prof Vincent O'Flaherty and Dr Dermot Hughes.

"NVP Energy was formed in 2013 on the back of securing the worldwide rights to this first to market unique low temperature anaerobic digestion technology," explains NVP managing director Michael Murray. "It had only been done at a small scale up to that that point. What we had to do was take something that had been developed in the lab to 3 cubic metres pilot stage and scale it up. That was the challenge we faced. We developed the technology up to 200 cubic metres in scale over the next three years."

Anaerobic digestion involves the pumping of wastewater into a fluidised bed of microbes which digest the organic components in the water producing methane and carbon dioxide as by-products. The wastewater is then passed through a filter which produces high quality effluent which can be discharged into public wastewater systems. The output is low in COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand – a measure of organic pollutants found in wastewater) and suspended solids. The biogas produced is also high in quality, with a methane content of greater than 85 per cent.

What makes the NVP technology unique is that it is not temperature dependent and produces three times as much energy as it requires to operate. “The unique aspect of the technology is that is able to work at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius and upwards,” says Murray. “Other systems only work at 30 to 35 degrees and require energy to drive them. This is a 21st-century anaerobic digestion system. It takes mid to low strength wastewater from production lines and turns that into an energy source. That’s the sweet spot we are targeting and it is very poorly served by the wastewater treatment systems industry at the moment.”

NVP is targeting the food and drink and municipal sectors because of the fact that they tend to produce low strength wastewater with lower organic content than the waste streams produced by other sectors such as agriculture.

“We haves secured a contract to install a system for one of the largest brewers in the world at one of their UK breweries,” says Murray. “Wastewater output from breweries fluctuates with the seasons between 10 degrees and 25 degrees. Other systems only work above 35 degrees. Breweries actually have to cool the effluent before they can discharge it to the mains or rivers. This is not the case with our system.”

There are financial as well as environmental advantages. “There is a three-year payback with the NVP Energy system,” says Murray. “It can be up to 10 years with others.”

The system, which is manufactured off-site to facilitate rapid installation and commissioning, has already made a commercial breakthrough. The first full-scale plant was installed at ABP Food Group's Lurgan meat-processing plant in April 2016, while the second has been successfully operating at an Arrabawn Group milk processing facility since May 2017.

Along with the brewery contract, NVP Energy is also in negotiations with a leading UK water utility to install a full-scale demonstrator plant later this year.

The future for the company is sustainable international growth, according to Murray. “We want to internationalise as fast as we can. Will use an indirect model to sell into international markets. We have already set that in train in the US and we are having detailed discussions with potential partners there. We now have a team of 11 people, up from four in March 2016 but it is very much steady as she goes and we won’t bite off more than we can chew. The global market opportunity in this area is worth €35 billion to €40 billion per annum and we believe we have a product that can claim more than a niche share of that.”