FOUNDER: Simon Jury
What problems do you solve and what products or services do you sell?
EFF-GO seeks to solve the sewage sludge and other recalcitrant organic waste dilemmas facing a 21st century society.
Currently Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants (MWTPs) substantially utilise microbial communities, aerobic and anaerobic, to literally eat wastewater and thus render it fit for discharge.
However, modern wastewaters have increasing concentrations of non-biodegradable compounds, a function of our synthetic chemical industry, one of the pillars upon which our 21st century society is founded. These Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and plastic micro/nano-particles pass through our MWTPs, generating subtle, devastating and potentially irreversible changes to the receiving freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems. With these ecosystems ultimately linked by the Hydrologic Cycle, pollutants are effectively raining on us.
Our current MWTPs are not entirely suited to 21st century wastewaters, which include varying concentrations of the estimated 30,000 synthetic compounds in use worldwide. Society needs 21st century solutions, physiochemical solutions, to support our microbe powered MWTPs.
EFF-GO offers such a solution by harnessing the powerful and efficient treatment conditions created by SuperCritical Water. Water heated and pressurised beyond its critical point; 374°C & 221 bar; becomes a highly oxidative medium, in which organic matter and oxygen approach complete solubility, resulting in reactions measured in seconds and treatment efficiencies >99.99%.
EFF-GO has created an alternative and novel design for the SuperCritical Water Oxidation process.
Supercritical water is the fourth state of water. At such high temperatures and pressures, water becomes a non-polar solvent, meaning that oils and fats can dissolve in it. Water begins to flow like a gas with a carrying capacity of a liquid. Under these conditions, a rapid reaction occurs. Within 1 to 30 seconds, the organic matter literally burns within the supercritical water flame and it oxidises into carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc, but without the troublesome emissions of a classical incinerator.
EFF-GO, a 21st century solution, for 21st century waste.
Who and where are your target customers?
In New Zealand, we’re in conversation with Watercare and other large wastewater treatment operators, such as Wellington. Recently Wellington was spending around $100,000 a day moving sewage sludge from its wastewater treatment plant to the landfill because the pipe between the two was broken. Wellington is in a very earthquake-prone area, so pipes will break no matter what you do. The same problem could appear in the future. EFF-GO offers a future-proof solution. One that can be made mobile, so deployable on campaign to treat excess organic waste on-site without off-site disposal.
It’s also worth noting that in the next 5 to 7 years Wellington will not be able to landfill its sewage sludge, due to insufficient general waste to stabilise the sludge.
We’re also keen to engage with all the big cities and industries, like poultry processing plants and dairy factories in Australia and the USA, because EFF-GO has Freedom to Operate in NZ, Australia and USA.
In the future, when EFF-GO goes global, we’d license our IP.
How and when did you first come up with the idea for your business?
About 20 years ago I was asked to critique a scientific paper on Catalytic Wet Air Oxidation. In that paper, they were repeatedly slagging off SuperCritical Water Oxidation. I investigated both to find out why. Supercritical Water Oxidation is a significantly more efficient process if only you could solve the salt plugging, corrosion, and erosion issues. Catalytic Wet Air Oxidation takes hours, with Supercritical Water Oxidation, you’re talking seconds.
My background is in chemistry. From the age of 20, I’ve worked in laboratories and within the commercial waste and trade waste sectors. I’ve employed a wide variety of standard chemical processes. So, when I read the paper and understood the problem, it occurred to me that it was very similar to something that already exists. I knew how that process handled similar conditions, so couldn’t those principles be applied to this? I did some digging around and realised it could.
What are three things about your business that you are proud of?
1. We have yet to meet anyone that says it can’t be done. When we sit someone down and say, “Please sign this nondisclosure agreement, and I’ll tell you the IP,” no one has gone, “Well, that can’t work because of this.”
I’ve explained the project to two PhD Chemical Engineers (Dr Fabian Dolamore and Dr Gaetano Dedual), a pressure vessel design Engineer (Fergus Rhodes), Dr Peter Dyer (Principal Chemical Engineer) of Callaghan Innovation, and Gareth Williams; a Wastewater Specialist from Auckland, who’s now part of the team. So far, we have not identified a reason why it won’t work.
2. People have been giving their time freely to help, so they must see merit in the idea. For example, Dr Fabian Dolamore, currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Canterbury University, donated his time to provide us with our Computational Fluid Dynamics model. Once we find funding, he’s keen to supervise a PhD to refine the model, which will then help refine the design of the reaction chamber.
3. Our tenacity. We’ve kept on going.
How do you market your business and what advice do you have for others around marketing?
Right now, we’re applying for more funding. We’re going to enter the Trans-Tasman Water Challenge, so that will spread awareness of EFF-GO across the ditch. We’ve also got a website with our previous funding bid attempts with Waste Minimisation Fund, Provincial Growth Fund and the 2019 C-Prize.
In the future, we hope that most of our marketing will be word-of-mouth. Once we demonstrate an EFF-GO prototype, and prove the reductions in sewage sludge disposal costs, we will have many interested customers. The wastewater treatment world being a surprisingly closely knit community.
Currently, the cost to compost sewage sludge in New Zealand is just over $200/t. To landfill it, it’s about $240/t. In Australia, it’s even more, about $500/t. People talk about the benefits of adding sewage sludge to land to improve soil structure, but it always begs the question, “Is this sustainable? Will this actually cause a toxic problem in the future?” There’s evidence that not all sewage sludge compost is good. Remember, dilution is no solution to pollution.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in building your business so far?
Ultimately, we’ll need about $500,000 to build a commercial prototype, but as we have developed, in unison with Callaghan Innovation, a phased risk reducing R&D plan we would be looking to secure $20,000 to initiate the process. The current global wastewater treatment market is around US$96 billion, and that’s rising. Roughly 50% of wastewater treatment costs are sludge related, so the global market EFF-GO seeks to enter is in the region of US$30 billion. Wastewater treatment is a cornerstone of our society, so it is unlikely to shrink as a market. Water is also becoming increasingly precious
The problem I have is trying to convince investors that it’s worth the risk to solve a society wide issue. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to meet a sufficiently visionary investor. They simply don’t see it as being an issue. The good news is that Dr Peter Dyer has been an exceptional mentor to EFF-GO and he has coached us to create a graduated R&D Project Plan. So, any investor who joins EFF-GO on its journey will experience a reducing risk profile and will have the reassurance that the R&D is being delivered, in part, by Callaghan Innovation.
What is the biggest entrepreneur lesson you would like to share with other Kiwis thinking of starting their own business?
Keep on. Don’t give up and be prepared to pivot. Initially, we were going to target farmers, but realising that the market is understandably risk averse, we’ve pivoted to target wastewater treatment plants to solve their sewage sludge problem. So, be prepared to change and be prepared to listen to what you hear.