A Vancouver entrepreneur is helping to safeguard the world’s water quality by successfully commercializing a groundbreaking approach for treating dairy farm manure and sewage sludge, both of which are posing an urgent problem in the worldwide agricultural and wastewater treatment industries.
The first-of-its-kind innovation has earned Asha Srinivasan a prestigious award and $5,000 from Mitacs, a national, not-for-profit organization that partners companies, government and academia to promote Canadian research and training. In recognition of the ongoing success of her start-up and its work to address an important global issue, Srinivasan — a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and one of four co-founders of Vancouver-based Boost Environmental Systems — will be presented the Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award on June 8 at a ceremony in Toronto.
Excessive nutrient build-up in soil due to the common practice of spreading liquid manure is a huge problem facing dairy farmers, Srinivasan explained, because it leads to the contamination of surface and ground water, which poses a significant health hazard to humans. At the same time, municipal wastewater treatment plants around the world are facing multi-million-dollar investments in aging infrastructure in order to meet more stringent environmental regulations.
The breakthrough clean-tech system, being commercialized by Boost, solves both challenges by efficiently and cost-effectively breaking down solids and facilitates recovering nutrients and energy from organic slurries before they pose a problem. Called IMPACT, the technology is changing the way organic waste liquids are treated and handled, by applying microwave heating and oxidants to improve and shorten the overall treatment cycle. Developed in the UBC labs, Boost has now secured the worldwide exclusive licence for the technology and is moving forward with pilot implementation projects.
“Not only are we working to keep our water sources clean, we are also providing a sustainable sludge management solution that will reduce the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants and give dairy farmers a viable way to manage land application of manure without contaminating local water supplies,” Srinivasan said.
For example, dairy farms of all sizes can use IMPACT to remove excess nutrients from manure before it is applied to crops, alleviating the potential for surface and ground water contamination, she explained. Municipal wastewater treatment plants can add IMPACT as an extra step to their current systems, reducing the amount of sludge that needs to be processed and achieving more efficient bioenergy production without the need for costly infrastructure changes.
“The management of wastewater streams is a huge environmental problem and there is an immediate need for a solution in both sectors,” said Srinivasan, citing as an example the high intensity farm operations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley that are currently outpacing nature’s capacity to accept liquid manure waste in the traditional manner of land spreading. “Successful commercialization of IMPACT will put Canada at the forefront of environmentally sustainable, carbon neutral waste management solutions,” she added.
Boost is currently teaming up with UBC to move forward with demonstration projects at a wastewater treatment plant in Abbotsford, B.C., and at a 350-cow dairy farm at the UBC Dairy Education Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C. The company is also receiving significant global interest from China, South East Asia and India and plans to go to market by 2019.
Srinivasan is one of five winners of the Entrepreneur Award, presented by Mitacs (www.mitacs.ca), who were evaluated according to their ability to demonstrate sound business planning, entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to continued excellence in innovation. “Mitacs is building on Canada’s strengthened commitment to technology and innovation by continuing to support up-and-coming entrepreneurs, like Asha,” said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “Mitacs’ programs equip researchers with the career skills they need to successfully transfer breakthrough technologies, community and educational improvements, and environmental solutions from the lab to the business world.”