Interview

SME of the Month – OxyMem

Meet SME of the month in December - OxyMem. Read about the revolutionary innovation for wasterwater treatment, developed by this SME from Ireland. 

 

OxyMem is an Irish industrial biotech company aiming to revolutionise biological aeration for industrial and municipal wastewater plants. Conventional wastewater treatment consumes large amounts of electricity due to its bubble diffusion which will typically suffer great energy losses in the process. OxyMem’s proprietary Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor enables customers to build and operate energy efficient biological wastewater treatment plants and allowing them get closer to energy neutral wastewater treatment goals. We interviewed CEO Wayne Byrne in our monthly #SMEoftheMonth series.

What has been the initial idea to found OxyMem, and how did you start out?

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 founded by CEO Wayne Byrne, Prof. Eoin Casey and Dr Eoin Syron, who have spent almost 30 years researching biofilm technology.


Biofilm - ©OxyMem 2019

The initial idea to found OxyMem came from research carried out in the School of Chemical and Bioprocess engineering in University College Dublin.  The team of Professor Eoin Casey and Dr Eoin Syron were investigating the Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR) due to its unique counter diffusional biofilm.  They realised that it could reduce the energy required for biological wastewater treatment by 75%, and set about scaling up the technology from lab scale to full scale.  They then teamed together with current CEO Wayne Byrne to commercialise the technology.

Today OxyMem continues to work on the development of the MABR technology to tailor it to the need of various wastewater streams.

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

What are currently the challenges in wastewater treatment and how does your technology enable more sustainable ways of treating wastewater?

OxyMem MABR technology offers wastewater treatment plant owners and operators the opportunity to transform their plants to cope with the upcoming challenges.

Increasing Capacity - According to the UN 55% of the world’s population currently live in urban areas, this is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. Increasing populations and movement of people means that wastewater treatment plans need upgrading to meet their demands. Upgrading legacy system via traditional methods can be expensive and time consuming. OxyMem offer a drop-in solution that can increase biological treatment capacity in a number of days.

Availability of Land – The cost of and availability of land is becoming a factor when upgrading treatment plants. Conventional wastewater systems often require additional tanks or substantial civil modifications in order to treat more biological load. Our solution does not require additional civil infrastructure to be added. We can improve process efficiency and performance without acquiring additional land or making modifications to existing tanks.

Energy – It is estimated that the energy required for aeration of activated sludge systems accounts for 2 -3 % of an established country`s electrical energy demands. The OxyMem Membrane Aeration Biofilm Reactor (MABR) delivers bubble-less aeration and can achieve very high oxygen transfer rates (up to 95%) even at very low operating pressures. This results in up to 7X energy savings over Conventional Activated Sludge (CAS) and process performance of 14kgO2/ kWh.

Regulations – The issue of climate change and environmental protection is moving to the forefront of people’s mind. OxyMem MABR can help wastewater treatment plants abide by the increasing regulations they are facing. OxyMem MABR as a unique high loaded pre-treatment system that can remove BOD ammonia and nitrate simultaneously.

As a highly innovative SME with a breakthrough technology - did you still experience barriers in starting a successful biotech business in the EU?

There are always challenges in business, and a reluctance to change is inherent in business as it is perceived to reduce risk.  When bringing a breakthrough technology to market new customers need to be educated in how the technology works and what are the advantages over existing technologies and how the technology differs in its operation. There can also be barriers especially when responding to tenders, which can be very restrictive and look for years or operational data thereby excluding new technologies.

On the contrary, are there any key points in the developments of OxyMem where you had the feeling that the EU biotech ecosystem facilitates your development process?

In OxyMem we have been fortunate to win a of number awards, both national and international. These helps bring recognition and also a level of credibility to the developing technology.  The increasing acceptance of innovation in the EU biotech ecosystem helps in our ongoing development. Investment from both the worlds largest chemical company DuPont and the largest oil company Saudi Aramco who could see the potential that OxyMem had for the market have been key in our development.

How did founding in the university ecosystem help? And where do you see would you see main bottlenecks when it comes to bringing a scientific idea from universities to market?

The main bottleneck in bringing a technology out of the university to market is that researchers do not have the understanding of how business works. Because they are trained to investigate the innovative or novel aspects of their research, they are not able to identify and articulate the advantages of the technology that are relevant to the market or customer. This translation or interpretation can take a long time and cause many headaches.  The raising of funds for research is also very different compared with raising investment, where different metrics are use a different story and presentation of the novel development is required.


OxyMem modules for UK dispatch (© OxyMem 2019)

You took home EuropaBio’s Biotech SME Awards in 2016 - how did OxyMem do in the past years and what has been your greatest achievements since?

Our biggest achievement is seeing how the technology is impacting wastewater treatment technology around the world. Interest and adoption of OxyMem’s technology continues to grow at an increasing rate with companies such as, IKEA, Acciona and global giants DuPont and Saudi Aramco keen to take advantage of the benefits to be had on both municipal and industrial projects. A number of key UK Water Companies are currently assessing the latest MABR technology for possible deferment of capital projects, and Severn Trent Water (STW) are the latest UK company to take advantage of OxyMem’s drop-in solution for capacity enhancement. Several units have been dispatched for a new project in 2020 to target ammonia reduction within an existing STW plant.


OxyMem module on site ( (© OxyMem 2019)

What are the aspirations for OxyMem in 2020 and beyond?

To become the technology of choice when water resource recovery facilities are looking to expand their treatment capacity.

 

To learn more about OxyMem Technology or to view our case studies and explainer videos visit www.oxymem.com

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