OxyMem is an Irish company whose innovative technology is improving efficiency and cutting energy use in wastewater treatment.
Spun out of Ireland’s University College Dublin (UCD) as a start-up in 2013, OxyMem is headed by CEO Wayne Byrne, Prof. Eoin Casey and Dr. Eoin Syron, who have spent almost 20 years researching biofilm technology.
OxyMem’s core technology is an efficient system to transfer the oxygen required for wastewater treatment. John McConomy, Commercial Director at OxyMem, explains that for the past century wastewater has been aerated with bubbles. These bubbles, once released deep under water, simply rise to the surface and burst: “When the bubbles burst at the water surface most of the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere, which is a waste of energy. Significant energy is used to generate the bubbles in the first place.”
Oxygenation is a vital step in wastewater treatment, as it assists the bacteria that help clean the water to live and thrive: “Just like you and me, the bacteria need food, oxygen and the right environment. The one vital thing we provide to the wastewater is the oxygen.”
OxyMem’s MABR system revolutionises how water is oxygenated
What sets OxyMem apart is its membrane-aerated biofilm reactor (MABR), which is revolutionising the way oxygen is delivered to the wastewater treatment process. Traditional systems are wasteful in terms of oxygen delivery and can account for more than 50% of the energy consumed on a treatment plant. When OxyMem modules are used in place of a traditional aeration systems, energy consumption can be reduced by up to 75%.
OxyMem’s MABR is unique to the industry, as it delivers oxygen to wastewater at a molecular level, through small hollow tubes, in much the same way as a living body delivers and distributes oxygen throughout the body. A single MABR module can contain more than 1,500,000m of microbore gas-permeable tubes. Air flows through these tubes and the oxygen moves efficiently across the gas-permeable wall and into a biofilm (biology attached to the outside of the tube).
John explains that, because this transfer takes place via molecular diffusion, there is no need for perforations in the tubes, and therefore, “There are no pores to get clogged, unlike diffuser systems, where regular cleaning is required to prevent blowers running at higher pressures and to maintain performance and air distribution.”
OxyMem is a global leader in MABR technology and has developed a patented biofilm thickness measurement and control system, which helps maintain optimum operational performance throughout the life of the system.
Another benefit of the OxyMem system is that it can be easily dropped into existing tanks on an existing site to increase the treatment capacity, without taking tanks offline or disrupting the existing process. MABR offers significantly lower energy use and cost when compared to conventional treatment systems, and the volume of waste sludge may be reduced by up to 50%. Energy and sludge reduction helps the environment greatly.
OxyMem across the world
The quality of OxyMem’s innovation and technology has not gone unnoticed. UK water companies are about to enter Asset Management Period 7 (AMP7), a new funding period in which companies will be expected to deliver more water from the same volume of sources, to waste less water, and increase innovation levels.
With these changes posing clear challenges, one early adopter of OxyMem’s systems was one of the UK’s largest water companies Severn Trent, who carried out several trials on the technology; one original system has been in operation for seven years, without the need for cleaning.
John talks about OxyMem’s future with Severn Trent: “We are very pleased to be working with Severn Trent as one of the UK’s leading and most forward thinking water companies. Our journey with Severn Trent continues; we should see a number of full-scale OxyMem modules being deployed and in operation on one of their facilities this summer. This will be the largest MABR plant in the UK using OxyMem technology.”
The company has also attracted investment from two of the largest companies in the world –DuPont and Saudi Aramco. OxyMem has also installed systems worldwide, in countries such as Canada, Spain, Australia, Brazil, UK, UAE and China.
In 2018, the company moved to larger premises in Athlone in Ireland. It has grown from employing 22 staff to over 60 and has increased manufacturing capability to 400% within a year. The production facility operates 24/7, with the company now exploring global manufacturing and distribution options.
Support from Enterprise Ireland
CEO Wayne Byrne notes that Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, has offered invaluable support to the company from the beginning: “Even before we contemplated the spin-out from UCD, Enterprise Ireland had given the OxyMem team advice on how to best work with the university as a commercial entity to facilitate research and development in the future. Their overseas teams have been hugely supportive over the years and acted like an extension of our teams in focus markets.”
He describes the value a government organisation like Enterprise Ireland offers such companies and their international partners: “Having a resource like Enterprise Ireland, which has personnel with years of experience in all areas of business, helps you in meeting challenges, along with identifying and seizing opportunities that arise.”
It is this support and focus on innovation that has allowed OxyMem to achieve the success Byrne describes: “We have managed to take a lab-scale research project from UCD, and scale it to a manufacturing business with over 60 staff, backed by the world’s largest chemical company (DuPont) and oil company (Saudi Aramco), serving over 20 markets.”