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NVP Energy wastewater system wins Energy Globe award

Energy-positive system aimed at food and drink and municipal water sectors

The 2017 Irish Times Innovation Awards category winner NVP Energy has just won a highly prestigious national Energy Globe award for its unique carbon-neutral, energy-positive wastewater treatment technology. Organised by the Energy Globe Foundation the awards are presented annually to projects focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energies and the conservation of resources.

NVP took the national award for Ireland for the installation of its technology at the Arrabawn Dairies production site in Kilconnell, Co Galway, which has turned a previously energy-intensive treatment process into a stream of sustainable biogas.

The technology utilises revolutionary anaerobic digestion technology developed in the NUIG department of microbiology by Prof Vincent O'Flaherty and Dr Dermot Hughes. The process involves the digestion of the organic components in wastewater by a fluidised bed of microbes which produces methane and carbon dioxide as by-products.

The NVP technology is unique in 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 four degrees Celsius and upwards," says NVP managing director Michael Murray. "Other systems only work at 30 to 35 degrees and require energy to drive them. Our system takes mid- to low-strength wastewater from production lines and turns it into an energy source."

Industrial standards

The company was formed in 2013 and spent the following three years scaling up the technology to meet industrial standards. 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 the Arrabawn facility since May 2017.

Arrabawn produces more than 380 million litres of milk a year at its Tipperary and Galway facilities. "We are delighted that NVP Energy has enabled us to continue to meet and exceed environmental obligations with a carbon-neutral sustainable technology that produces biogas as a usable by-product," says Arrabawn chief executive Conor Ryan.

"The NVP Energy system enabled us to greatly increase our treatment capacity on the site, while reducing running costs substantially, giving us a platform on which to increase milk production at the plant," says Jerry Ryan of Arrabawn, who oversaw the commissioning of the NVP wastewater treatment plant. "The modular design of the technology means that we can easily add another treatment module when we outgrow our current treatment capacity."

“As a large milk-processing player in Ireland, Arrabawn was an ideal company to reap the benefits of this unique technology,” says Murray. “Their enthusiasm and support played a critically important in a very successful project from start to finish.”

The company targets the food and drink and municipal water 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. These low-strength wastewaters are ideally suited to NVP’s energy-positive process.

"Wastewater output from breweries ranges between 10 degrees and 25 degrees Celsius depending on the season," Murray explains. "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. We have won a major project with Heineken at one of its biggest sites in the UK. This was a game-changer for us and was a major milestone for the business. We are on site there at the moment and the system will be commissioned and operational by the fourth quarter of the year."

Energy costs

Another recent win was with British utility Welsh Water. "This is for one of their sites in Wales and will also be operational by the end of the year," says Murray. "That will help us get into the municipal wastewater treatment market. That's a market that has been slow to adopt new technologies. It uses traditional aerobic digestion, which is highly energy-intensive. Our technology is attractive as it significantly reduces energy costs. We have also secured a contract with one of the largest maltsters in the world. GrainCorp Malt is one of the top three players in the global malting industry and we are working with them in Scotland. Malting is a water- and heat-intensive process and we take the wastewater generated by the process and turn it into energy."

These projects mark important milestones for MVP. “We had two projects back in 2017 – Arrabawn and ABP and we have now added a number of other blue-chip companies to our pipeline. We are deploying first-of-its-kind technology in these key market segments. We received patent approval in the US in September of last year and European patent approval just recently. That means that we can move into these two key markets with patented technology. Our strategy will be to market and deploy systems ourselves on a turnkey basis in the UK and Ireland and to work with partners in the US, EU and other more distant markets.”