Who was at IDA 2009?
Veolia seals partnership with NanoH2O
Utilities Middle East caught up with both CEOs to discuss the benefits of a landmark new relationship between the two companies.
Can you explain what NanoH2O is offering to the desalination market?
Jeff Green (CEO of NanoH2O): NanoH2O is an early-stage developer of the next generation of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes. As a new company, it’s important for us to establish ourselves and we’re very close to our first commercial product so it’s an important time for us.
How did NanoH2O first come to your attention?
Jean-Michel Herrewyn (CEO of Veolia Solutions & Technologies): Actually, the initial contact was made through an IDA event in Barcelona two years back.
At that time they presented their ideas and research and we thought that it was a clever and interesting product and wanted to learn and discover more.
It evolved until the point where we formed the basis of a business relationship to meld the strengths of the two companies. It’s a great example of the kind of arrangements an event like this can produce.
How important is the relationship from your perspective as a new company?
JG: It’s absolutely critical. The most important thing for any new technology is to be demonstrated at a commercial level.
You can present your research, but ultimately for customers like the municipalities and large-scale industry to adopt technology, they need to have seen the results in the field.
As a smaller company, the question is how quickly can you achieve those results and once you do, what are the channels that will help you accelerate your sales.
Veolia has that ability to move us quickly to the commercial testing phase. The water market is very local; different waters have different characteristics, so you need to have presence and testing in a number of different geographies.
Can you provide further details about your first commercial product?
JG: It’s a nano-composite seawater RO membrane. RO membranes are typically made of a pure polymer film - we add nano particles to the film that makes up the surface of the membrane. The key performance metrics for membranes are productivity - so in desalination you have pressure, which equates to energy consumption and which drives water through the membrane.
The more permeable the membrane, the greater the opportunity to either drop the consumption by dropping pressure, or produce more water in a similar-sized plant.
Ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do – the focus of our company has been to improve the membrane chemistry to get it to that next level of economics, which is going to benefit the end-user immeasurably.
What does the relationship offer Veolia?
J-MH: There is a lot of merit for us to be involved as much as we can with the innovation associated with this kind of product. Even if the traditional membranes have become commodities, it doesn’t mean that there is no possible breakthrough in this technology that will change the economics of the whole sector.
We are keen to find partners and promote the technologies, and then of course we can benefit in terms of market share and our own efficiency in the market.
It’s often difficult for a sizeable company to ensure that everyone is open-minded about new technologies being developed outside the firm. So looking at new partnerships helps fuel the general idea that we don’t rely on our role and process expertise - we can be flexible and adaptive to co-opt with others and deliver more.
Some believe that the size of the company is an asset which should not be shared with others.
I tend to believe the opposite - that the main issue is how reactive and quick you are to promote new ideas. This is especially valid in the water industry, which in my humble opinion has been a little lagging behind in the efficiency with which it promotes new technologies in the marketplace.
How does your technology assist with sustainability?
JG: When you look at water treatment in general, there are three driving factors that affect sustainability. There’s energy consumption, materials consumption of building plants and materials, and the chemicals use in a lot of these processes. For membrane processes, we can help with all three.
If you have a more productive membrane you can build smaller plants and get the same amount of water. And in any membrane or filtration environment, you’re going to have potential fouling on a membrane surface.
A lot of the chemical feeds in the process are to do with fouling - if you can make a more naturally fouling-resistant surface, you can reduce chemical consumption and control that into the effluent and disposal.