Monday 6 May 2019

The AOS Demonstration Pilot and What it Means for BioLargo’s Future

The On-Site AOS Treatment Train

We recently built and installed a sophisticated water treatment system featuring our Advanced Oxidation System (AOS) at a poultry and livestock farm near Edmonton, AB (Sunworks Farm). This pre-commercial pilot will be the first in-field operating AOS system. It is hard to overstate how proud we are of our team for this milestone in the development cycle of the AOS. It’s equally hard to overemphasize how important this milestone is to the commercialization of this amazing technology. When we talk about our AOS technology with stakeholders and investors, a common refrain we hear is, “Sure, but when’s this thing getting out of the research lab and into the real world?” With the news of this treatment train installation, we can answer, “Now”.

This AOS treatment train has profound implications on both the technological progress of the AOS technology as well as our ability to monetize the AOS. From a technological standpoint, this is a full treatment train containing everything a client needs to treat their wastewater to discharge standards set by regulators. It’s also capable of handling the flowrates required by livestock facilities like this one and is easily scalable to higher flowrates with additional reactors in the treatment train. And importantly, the treatment train is robust enough to function over long periods of time at this poultry farm in any weather. This is a far cry from the lab prototypes that came before. With this new AOS treatment train we have a portable, modular water treatment solution that delivers the highest performance in disinfection and decontamination, eliminates hard-to-treat micropollutants, and has lower operational costs, capital costs, and energy usage rates than other similar water treatment technologies.

From a monetization standpoint, this treatment train can be described as a “test drive” of our business plan for the AOS – we deliver a full treatment solution to a customer in a robust, ruggedized trailer for a free trial period, after which they have the option of keeping the equipment through either lease, purchase, or pay-per-gallon. This is the reason this prototype AOS treatment train truly represents a pivotal moment in the commercialization of the AOS – it’s out of the lab and into the field, where it will soon be earning real money and helping people save on water costs. Furthermore, this pilot system and its integrated on-site laboratory will provide key data and metrics to provide potential customers and is therefore a linchpin for future sales. This is also just our first pre-commercial pilot. Another is being installed at a small brewery in Southern California and it’s also being pulled by industry stakeholders in areas like stormwater, food & beverage, and petrochemical.

It has been a long journey to bring the AOS to this point. It’s worth mentioning that even multi-billion-dollar technology development companies take many years to invent, develop, and commercialize a new water treatment system, and that’s part of why we’re so proud of getting to where we are now with the AOS. At this milestone, it’s worth reflecting on the journey our water technology team has undertaken to bring this technology to bear.

The Early Days of the AOS

Many of you may remember the beginnings of the AOS. The technology was invented by BioLargo’s Chief Science Officer Ken Code. Ken recognized three things: 1) that current water treatment technologies struggled to contend with certain contaminants and pathogens, leading to public health incidents, 2) existing systems were usually very costly and very energy-intensive, and 3) the industry was using the same handful of technologies to treat water virtually everywhere, with little innovation – UV systems, ozone, hydrogen peroxide systems, and chlorine-based systems. Ken conceived of a new technology that exploits electrochemical principles to deliver novel, highly oxidative iodine chemistry that rapidly kills pathogens and oxidizes contaminants. The AOS was born.

The very first AOS devices bore little resemblance to today’s AOS. Its job was to demonstrate the principle that advanced carbon materials combined with iodine electrochemistry would result in rapid disinfection and decontamination.

Next, the first real lab-scale AOS prototypes were made. Their purpose was to show that the AOS process works in flowing water (we call this a “flow-through reactor”). These were small, fragile, and slow, but they were shown to exhibit tremendous disinfection and decontamination rates in flowing water while consuming surprisingly little electricity.

The AOS’ Adolescent Years

The next AOS prototypes that were made were a bit bigger – approximate 3” in diameter. These were made to prove that the AOS technology was scalable with size, and that the performance we saw with the smaller reactors wasn’t an artefact of their small size. These new AOS prototypes were capable of processing up to 1L per minute (0.25 gallons). They didn’t win any beauty contests, but they achieved their goal.

The next step in AOS development was a big one – our first pre-commercial prototype. The purpose of this was to demonstrate that the AOS could be scaled to a size relevant to water treatment in a real, albeit small, commercial setting. It also needed to be equipped with on-board sensor systems that could measure water quality parameters, flow rate, and pressure. To accomplish this, we partnered with an incredibly talented team of sensor developers at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (NAIT) Centre for Sensors and System Integration (CSSI) in Edmonton. With NAIT, we built the first Alpha Prototype, complete with state-of-the-art sensors, which we showcased at our technical symposium in August of 2016.

Soon after this, the BioLargo Water team began to work on a new iteration of the AOS – the “Spiral AOS”. This prototype is designed for interior water treatment applications where space is more of a concern and where a compact water treatment platform is preferable. We showcased the AOS late last year on our blog, and you can learn more about it there! The conventional “Stacked” AOS is still used for applications where space is a less important consideration (for example, at a poultry farm). Thanks in part to the modularity of the Spiral design AOS, the technology is now scalable to nearly any required flowrate by adding increasing the number of AOS reactors in a treatment train.

All Grown Up

The next step in the development of the AOS was to convert this pre-commercial prototype into a packaged device that could actually be used in a field setting. This meant designing what’s referred to as a “treatment train” – meaning all the equipment required to pump, filter, pre-treat, and post-treat the water so that it meets discharge standards and the client doesn’t have to think about it. This was an arduous step, requiring significant capital resources to create the full treatment train you see here. At this stage we also looked to secure agreements with livestock facilities interested in a pre-commercial pilot project. Our treatment train is now installed on-site at Sunworks Farm, a certified organic chicken farm in Alberta interested in the eco-friendly and innovative nature of our AOS technology.

All of this work could never have been possible without the generous support of government funding agencies like NRC-IRAP, NSERC, Alberta Innovates, and Southern California’s MWD-ICP program. Grants from these organizations helped pay for salaries, equipment, consumables, lab space, office space, and important research collaborations. All in, BioLargo Water has received more than 60 grants to fund its R&D work on the AOS thus far.

Where does the AOS go from here? Another common refrain we hear from our followers and investors is, “When does this thing start making money?” The question is fair enough. Now, thanks to this pilot (and those soon to come), the answer is easier – “Soon.” Pre-commercial pilots like this one are the last stop on the road before commercial pilots, also known as commercial trials. In this pilot we are refining our technical offering at the commercial scale and refining our business model, wherein we offer customers modular, portable treatment trains that simply solve their water issues. Certainly, the journey is not yet over for the commercialization of the AOS that Ken Code invented years ago, but it’s plain to see that the technology has traveled far to get where it is today, and that the journey is nearly over. We couldn’t be more excited for the future of the AOS.

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