EPS Group is one of Ireland’s most successful environmental businesses, designing, constructing and operating water and wastewater treatment systems and pumping equipment to industrial, commercial and municipal customers across Ireland, the UK, and the Middle East.

EPS Group is also one of the few genuinely “end-to-end” service providers in the global water sector.

Innovation has been central to its success. In the 50 years since it was established, the group based in County Cork in Ireland, has grown from being a modest electrical and pumping services business into an internationally-exporting product and service provider, focused on the water, wastewater and clean technology sectors.

Headquartered in the town of Mallow, with locations in Ireland, the UK and Jordan, today EPS Group employs more than 450 people.

It is Ireland’s largest, privately owned Design-Build-Operate (DBO) partner for the delivery and operation of water and wastewater assets. Current long-term operational concessions cover over 300 treatment assets serving more than one million people.

The company has held contracts with all 34 water authorities in the Republic of Ireland (now transferred to the national utility Irish Water), as well as a significant share of the trader sub-market.

Innovation in action at EPS Group

EPS Group continues to innovate, recently winning a Digital Technology award at the European Business Awards for a submission that focused on the company’s newly opened Euro 4.5 million, 40,000 sq ft Centre of Design and Manufacturing Excellence.

The first of its kind for the water sector in Ireland and the UK, the new high-tech centre allows EPS to work in collaboration with clients and partners across the globe using multi-dimensional design platforms, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital demonstrations.

“A key differentiator for EPS Group is the fact that we have developed all of the skills the sector requires in-house. While our competitors, in most respects, outsource various activities, we are an end-to-end solutions provider, looking after every aspect of a project from concept through to aftercare,” says Patrick Buckley, managing director of EPS Group.

This breadth of expertise, allied to experience, gives EPS Group a key advantage, as does management’s commitment to always ‘take things a step further than our competitors,’” explains Buckley.

For example, EPS designs and preassembles plant, “to ensure we get it right first time on-site,” Buckley continues.

EPS is committed to ‘lean’ manufacturing, moving its design team onto the factory floor so that designers, fabricators and assembly teams can liaise for optimal efficiency. “Lean methodologies enable us to keep costs down, ultimately delivering value for our customer over their entire project,” Buckley says.

Why treating clients as strategic partners is key

The Group has a turnover of Euro 80 million and growth of around 10% per annum.  “Our development strategy is based on partnerships both up and down the supply chain,” adds Buckley.

This includes collaborative partnerships with customers and end users, for example with Tier 1 water treatment company Stantec Treatment, with whom it has a UK joint venture vehicle, MEPS.

EPS also forges collaborative partnerships to drive innovation, such as its licensing of sustainable waste water treatment process Nereda from Royal Haskoning DHV in the Netherlands, for use in Ireland and select projects in the UK and further afield.

“Existing biological wastewater treatment technology is over 100 years old. This is new technology for a new generation,” says Buckley. “Nereda is another example of the way in which EPS Group uses strategic partnerships to differentiate itself in the market. Whether by building such partnerships, or by investing in businesses that fit the profile of our growth strategy, it’s all part of our strong focus on growing in a sustainable way.”

Central to that is to only seek out projects where EPS Group can add value. “We go where customers value what we bring,” he says. “It’s a slower burn but it’s a more sustainable approach to business growth, as we continue our digital delivery journey”.

Liam Curran of Enterprise Ireland describes how innovative Irish companies are developing new solutions to meet emerging trends in water and wastewater management.

The need to reduce energy usage is paramount, says Liam Curran, senior technologist at Enterprise Ireland.

“The production of potable water and the treatment of waste water is highly energy intensive, mainly in relation to pumping and aeration. The industry is estimated to account for 2% – 4% of global energy usage, so anything that can improve on that is very welcome.”

Wastewater meets the Internet of Things

Increasingly the sector is turning to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to drive efficiencies.

“IoT has become a hot topic right across the entire network, whether municipal or industrial. In the management of river catchment we are seeing the installation of smart monitors upstream to optimise everything from when to take water, to water quality, to the impact of weather events such as heavy rainfall.”

Smart devices are increasingly used in treatment plants. “In future you will be able to remotely monitor and manage plant in water facilities before sending water into potable water networks. Once there you’ll use detectors to monitor changes in pressure so precisely that you will be able to dig within a metre of a leak,” he says.

Once used, either commercially or domestically, smart devices in sewers will monitor waste water issues such as flooding. Wastewater treatment plants will be remotely monitored and run and, when waste water is treated and released, the receiving catchment will be monitored via IoT sensors for environmental issues.

Recovering resources from wastewater

Wastewater is increasingly in the spotlight as a result of the growing trend for emerging resource recovery. “In the past we saw wastewater as a problem to be disposed of. Now it’s all about resource recovery – extracting as much value as possible from wastewater,” says Curran.

This includes deriving value from the fact that waste water is typically 10% above ambient temperatures. “The focus now is on ways to recover that heat energy and, for example, using the heat from waste water leaving a building to heat that building,” he says.

“Waste water is also rich in organic matter that could be run through an anaerobic digester to create bio-methane which you could clean and burn as an energy source. Technologies already exist to recover nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen from waste water. And indeed the water itself can be recovered. Already places such as California, Florida and parts of the Middle East are treating waste water to a point where it is suitable for such reuse as irrigation or industrial purposes.”

Such activities will increasingly be demanded by companies keen to meet environmental standards too.

Emerging contaminants of concern include pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and their removal is another area set for growth. “In the past the world hasn’t really considered the impact of PPCPs on water, but if you take medications such as antidepressants, hormone compounds or analgesics, they exit the body unchanged and enter into wastewater systems. If you go looking for aspirin downstream of municipal waste water systems, you will find it in rivers and lakes. Questions are increasingly being asked around the impact these compounds have on the environment.”

Antibiotics in wastewater

With concerns over antibiotic resistance growing worldwide, demand is growing for technologies to destroy antibiotics in wastewater too.

Anxiety is also growing about the impact of microplastics, whether from plastic packaging, microbeads in showergels or from synthetic clothing such as fleeces.  “The vast majority comes from degradation of plastic materials and run off from streets, because the sewer system and stormwater run offs are combined, but the fact remains that our water treatment plants are not designed to remove microplastics,” says Curran.

Irish companies turning wastewater green

A number of innovative Irish companies are working to solve such challenges however. OxyMem in Athlone has developed a low energy wastewater treatment using gas permeable membrane technology.

Ireland has strong national capability in relation to Internet of Things technologies too, as well as extensive data analytics expertise from companies such as Compass Informatics in Dublin, which has developed a product for municipal wastewater treatment biosolids management.

In Galway NVP Energy has developed wastewater treatment technology that removes organic pollution while producing biogas. It is currently in use at a meat processing plant in Lurgan. “One of the major advantages it offers is that they have taken 75% of the organic load off the existing treatment plant,” says Curran.