Passavant in Profile
Dr Mazen Bachir discusses his firm's current regional business
Adam Lane talks with Dr Mazen Bachir about Passavant Roediger’s extensive activity in the region’s water and wastewater sector
With regional projects that include Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, Mazen Bachir’s assessment of Passavant Roediger’s “decent spread” of Middle East work could be seen as impressively modest. The firm – headquartered in Germany – was fully acquired by Drake & Scull in 2010, and has been exceptionally busy across the wider Middle East ever since.
“With the exception of our on-site presence in Fujairah - during the construction of the wastewater treatment plant there - pre-2010, from a sales point of view, we were not physically or proactively present in the region, and worked rather reactively.
Since the acquisition by Drake & Scull, we gained a much better understanding of the region through them, and through our own presence. We had exposure to more and more projects, and we intend to build on this by enhancing our presence further,” Bachir explains.
The firm, which Dr Bachir leads as managing director, was founded in Germany way back in 1842 and now focuses on design and build, and operation and maintenance services in water, wastewater, sludge and waste treatment systems. With such long experience in the industry, the range of offerings is unsurprisingly extensive.
“On water treatment we have a range of in-house solutions, including our Tubo LME system, a high-rate compact filtration treatment process. By compact, I don’t necessarily mean packaged plants, but that the solution itself is compact compared to conventional technologies on the market. So whenever there is space restriction, or a high quality of water needed, this technology lends itself really well.
“We are also an EPC contractor in our own right, and through our understanding of the technology, we are able to applyvirtually any treatment process that is required – ranging from seawater desalination to water required for industry, and anything in between, tailor-made to provide cost-effective solutions to our clients,” he explains.
Bachir says that Passavant’s key business principle effectively kick-starts every project with an encompassing understanding of what the client wants and tailoring the treatment process accordingly. In this way, he believes, his firm can essentially treat any wastewater or water that comes in, to any quality level that is required.
“In our wastewater business, we can look at it from two different aspects. There is the municipal side – which is traditional sewage – where we again look at the end user applications and the quality of the sewage coming in, and we design the plant accordingly. This ranges from simple plants for single stage treatment, up to plants with tertiary treatment stages and re-use applications.”
On the industrial wastewater side, Passavant has seen the regional growth in regulations about industrial discharge as a key driver of interest in its range of industrial treatment services.
Industrial applications can range around applications such as power plants or nuclear facilities, and Dr Bachir says that customers are increasingly seeing the benefit of treating water to a standard where it can be reused.
“We have been trying to show customers that you could approach the treatment requirements from two angles. The first is when you treat waste and that’s it; you still have to buy water from outside for your processes.
Or you can spend a little more – and normally it makes sense to do this because you already spend a lot on treatment – and get the water to a quality where you can reuse it. And this, of course, lowers your operating costs,” he explains.
The firm’s other key business area is its sludge and waste services, which were recently in the news after the firm’s mega-project award in Iraq. This will see it work on a US $23.4 million project to build a wastewater treatment plant in Kerbala – constructing a sludge treatment system based on anaerobic sludge digestion. This, Dr Bachir says, is an area where even competitors would not argue that the firm is number one.
“The Iraq project focuses on one of the byproducts of wastewater treatment, which is sludge. This is a global issue. What we traditionally did with sludge was to partially render it harmless and use it in landfill in remote areas.
This trend cannot continue indefinitely, because eventually you run out of land, and it is also not as harmless as you’d like because often the plants don’t operate properly.”
“With anaerobic sludge digestion treatment, we also recover energy, which is part of the green energy concept. During the process, there is a particular bio gas released which is captured and then run through special combined heat and power engines to convert this energy into electricity or heat.”
Passavant can provide the sludge treatment as a turnkey solution or, as in the Kerbala plant, as an additional add-on. In addition, it can also be applied to waste applications – something that Bachir suggests makes his firm something of a trailblazer in the Middle East.
“People talk today about the concept of waste to energy. We actually brought this to the region ten years ago, with the first plant of its kind in the region. The project was unfortunately put on hold due to the political situation, but we are currently in the process of starting it up today.
“We can sort out inorganics – wood, metal, glass – things that we can’t use, then recover the energy. The plant is fully sustainable and doesn’t require any additional energy to run. In fact it creates more energy than it needs. It’s also a zero liquid discharge plant so all the water that’s generated is treated and used on-site. The end product is fertiliser for agricultural purposes,” he explains.
The plant in Lebanon is designed to treat 300 tonnes of waste per day, expandable to 450 tonnes, and Bachir says that it is the only one of its kind.
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In terms of the level of competition for tenders in the region, Dr Bachir again suggests that the firm’s lengthy history gives it a particular perspective on competitors.
“If you were to ask me about the level of competition in the market in two or three years, you would probably get a different answer. We usually see a cycle in competition. So we might have between two and five companies competing for a particular project, rising up to about twenty over a five year period as people catch the wastewater treatment bug.
A lot of people try to enter the field because it’s fashionable or because there are projects in demand.
“This then dwindles because a lot of these firms acquire projects at low prices at which these kind of projects cannot be executed properly. So they end up going out of business. We, in contrast, know the processes; we understand the science behind it. This drives our process design principles and shapes everything that comes out of our headquarters in Germany,” he says.
Dr Bachir believes this is centrally important, as ensuring a client’s needs are met by a particular solution is key to them gaining added value from it.
“We don’t want to impose solutions on clients, but rather understand their needs, the constraints of the environment, the knowledge of their operators, so that we can design a plant accordingly.
It’s no good have a state-of-the-art machine if nobody can run it and you need to import talent. That’s expensive and it’s not sustainable. We assess the whole process first, and we optimise that in order to optimally channel efficiency.”
Whilst competitors might come and go, Passavant has seen consistent demand for its services throughout the Middle East, with a particular interest in water reuse applications. Dr Bachir says that the traditionally cheap energy in the region means that energy recovery is not – so far – as much of a factor here, but is surely likely to grow in importance as energy prices increase or if plants are required in remote areas without easy access to energy.
“In terms of demand, Saudi Arabia is a big market. That’s where the population is, and it’s also underdeveloped from an infrastructure point of view relative to the size of the country and financially.
The UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are to a lesser extent, but you see these countries also looking at industry – and consequently industrial wastewater – which will always be a market for us.
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Dr Bachir says that the firm’s strategy, whilst obviously seeking to increase its physical presence in the region, will see it maintain strong links with its German headquarters. This, he says, will ensure the region benefits from the 150 years of process knowledge the firm has.
“We are currently in the process of setting up key offices in the region – including, but not limited to, Saudi Arabia. In Dubai we have a presence as Passavant Roediger; in Saudi, we are present as Passavant Roediger on projects, but not yet with an office.
“Most places where we are not yet present, you will find us through Drake & Scull, but we will always have a Passavant Roediger presence. We don’t rely on externals, or agents, or even on colleagues from Drake & Scull. We always face our clients with the people that know our technology,” he explains.
Concluding, Bachir believes that the near future holds a great deal of promise for his firm, with the particular abilities it can offer making it a new go-to specialist in the market.
“We have had 15 -plus years of traditional players in the region. I think that they’ve done a good job, but we definitely need to take it to the next level in terms of water reuse and energy. The region needs someone like us to bring their experiences from Europe and apply them to local benefit.
“We are confident; we know what we are doing and we can transfer this knowledge to our clients. That’s why we believe we can continue our success in the region and we will grow. We can produce solutions that are economic, sustainable and, ultimately, that work for the long-term,” he signs off.
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Project in focus
Bachir says that, from a logistical viewpoint, one of the firm’s more challenging projects is its current work in Nablus, Palestine. The two-year, US $30 million project will see Passavant supply a wastewater treatment plant and 10km sewage network in the municipality to serve the city’s population of 126,000.
The plant is designed to treat 5.4 million cubic metres of raw sewage, which the company says will help provide greater access to water for agricultural purposes.
Despite being the commercial capital of Palestine, the city has a sewage system established in the early 1950s, with 7% of the population connected to the system through cesspits. The growth in population has substantially increased the need for modern system upgrades.
A key part of the project was to recover energy from waste to return power to the power grid. With this in mind, the firm has installed a Combine Heat and Power Unit (CHP) which is heated with combined full automatic digester gas excess pressure burners.
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CV of Mazen Bachir
Dr Mazen Bachir is the Managing Director and Chief Technical Officer of Passavant Roediger Germany, a subsidiary of Drake & Scull Water and Power. He works closely with the CEO to develop strategies and plans to maximise profits and identify new prospects.
Mazen also leads the operational teams of Passavant to ensure that adequate and effective management systems are in place to properly monitor, report, review and control the operational and functional activities of the business.
Mazen has a decade of experience in the Water and Power industry, having served stints with ACWA Services in the UK and the UAE before joining DSWP and subsequently Passavant Roediger. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from UMIST in Manchester, England.