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Wastewater research centre showcases Canadian innovation

0 393 Technology

by IAN HARVEY

Most Canadians probably don’t give water a second thought because we’re blessed with such an abundance of fresh water sources.
Dr. Brent Wootten
Dr. Brent Wootten

Unlike Israel and Singapore, for example, there's more than enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and industrial use.

Indeed, access to massive amounts of fresh water has proved as important an economic driver to Ontario's economy as Sir Adam Beck's vision of cheap electrical power driven by hydro-generation.

Because of its abundance, however, we've been somewhat cavalier with our attitude towards water treatment, though that is dramatically changing as tighter federal water quality regulation, especially for effluent discharge into water bodies, come into effect.

"Certainly wastewater treatment is a regulatory driven sector," notes Dr. Brent Wootten, Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment (CAWT) at Fleming College, director and senior scientist, in Peterborough, Ont.

CAWT seeks to ensure Canada is a world leader in treatment technology.

"But it's very much like those big boat cars we drove in the 1970s. The regulators came along and said, 'thou shalt be more fuel efficient' and the manufacturers kicked and screamed but it all changed for the better."

The CAWT started up about 12 years ago with a Canada Foundation for Innovation grant of about $1.6 million and over the years has continued to attract funding from both the provincial and federal governments, most recently a $1.75 million grant with the promise of a total of $4.2 million in federal funds over the next five years. In all there's been about $12 million poured in since the start.

It officially opened about a decade ago and is based in the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences, Frost Campus, Fleming College and has grown to become an internationally recognized research institute committed to excellence in research and education.

CAWT has also partnered with some 15 private sector companies, all with an interest in wastewater treatment and Wootten's expertise has taken him all over the world. He's been a consultant to the United Nations Environment Program as well being involved in a myriad of governmental environment-related programs and agencies closer to home.

"We don't make any claims for IP (Intellectual Property)," he said.

"So from the start the relationship is more relaxed. Colleges aren't in the business of owning technology rights. Some of these companies already have mature technology, so they don't need any creative from us however this is a very conservative industry and buyers and regulators are very skeptical. So they need that third party data validation which we can do for them."

Wootten has been in the wastewater sector pretty much since he first studied at university and he's still passionate about new technologies while not adverse to revisiting older proven technologies and to think outside the box.

As you might expect, he's a busy man with some 50 projects on the go from the Canadian Forces Base at Alert to Mumbai, Bangalore and New Delhi.

One of the most promising companies CAWT is working with is Noble Purification, a Peterborough-area company founded by Adam Noble, now 20 and whose teenage obsession with bugs led to a science fair win for a process using a bacteria called euglena.

His premise originally looked at recovering nanosilver, tiny particulates of silver mixed with everyday laundry detergents which kill bacteria and help keep clothes smelling fresh.

He's since developed a process which uses euglena, a type of algae, to attack the nanosilver particulates and concentrate in the cell structure which can then be filtered out and the silver recovered and resold.

Early estimates are Peterborough alone could recover $4.2 million a year in the nanoparticulates using his biofilter design.

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