Decarbonized Energy-Autonomous Wastewater Reuse
UN Top Innovator Portugal start-up ALGAESYS algae-based
wastewater treatment system is powered by the sun
By Suzanne Forcese
“Every cubic meter of ALGAESYS water and biomass provides opportunities for local wealth creation. The processing energy needs come from the sun, and the small amount of electrical energy could be provided by photovoltaics. The biomass has a high energy yield that could provide local energy autonomy.” -- -- James Lander, Co-Founder, ALGAESYS
Microorganisms in the ALGAESYS system produce reactive oxygen species to remove pathogens and oxidize persistent organics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and endocrine disruptors
WT: Please introduce yourself to our viewers and give us an overview of ALGAESYS; the journey that brought the Founders together; your mission; and the impetus that drove you to make a difference.
Lander: John Fagan and I (James Lander), have known and worked together since 1996 in East Asia.
We have a long history of working in the water and environmental sectors. I have also worked in conventional and renewable energy, taking a break from what I saw as inertia in the water industry.
John enticed me back with his ground-breaking circular solution.
John mused that algae were often to be seen growing at the end of treatment plants. It was not only an indication of inadequate performance, but also that it was surely a resource to be harnessed.
The use of algae is not new to wastewater processing, but John’s patented application of phototrophic organisms has a real bite! High reaction rates, aggressive oxidation, and low energy decarbonized processing –something the industry would benefit from.
Our mission is to deliver affordable water and resource recovery for all, ensuring water resilience and food security across the planet.
WT: You recently participated in the UN Water Conference and have been described as one of the innovators “with a paradigm-smashing solution”. Also in March 2023, you were invited to the inaugural Villars Summit on Biodiversity and Climate Change in Switzerland. You have attended various summits including the World Ocean Summit & Expo. What has this global recognition meant for you?
Lander: We have been invited to these events because we are a World Economic Forum Uplink Top Innovator/Aquapreneur and were a winner of their Circular Water Cities Challenge in 2021.
This recognition has helped to provide assurance to prospective partners, customers and investors. It has also allowed us to connect to other Uplink Top Innovators and fire up our group’s desire to work together to realize fully circular solutions.
WT: Why is your solution disruptive?
Lander: Water and resource recovery using conventional technology is prohibitively expensive, especially for smaller communities and businesses, but we believe our system is affordable to virtually every community on the planet.
Reuse quality water typically needs to be capable of robust reliable performance, provide disinfection and remove trace pollutants such as pesticides, industrial organic chemicals, heavy metals, micro-plastics and endocrine disruptors.
We use our natural photosynthetic organisms to take on the work that would conventionally require electrochemical systems.
Our compact high-rate systems not only have up to 80% lower lifecycle costs than conventional systems with very low energy consumption, but we also are net carbon negative and a net producer of energy.
Our biomass can be used as a nutrient-rich soil conditioner and we are also working on economically promising biomass-related products which further sequester the captured carbon.
WT: Would you describe ALGAESYS as a social enterprise? What is unique about your approach?
Lander: I believe we could be classified as a social enterprise based on the knowledge and joy that we shall deliver a triple bottom line by improving the lives of people and regenerating local economies all around the planet.
We also wish to make a profit from our team’s investment. The intention is that a portion of the profits will be used to fund projects where there is the greatest need and least affordability.
Water is greatly undervalued and consequently so often are the efforts of those who make it safe and able to guarantee an adequate supply.
As a result, we have huge inequalities and injustices between those who have, (and often squander) water and those who have so little.
We raise the economic value of water so that the user has multiple product and revenue streams. We build water resilience, energy security, and food security.
Our systems are energy autonomous.
Further, procurement of our systems maximizes local sourcing and labour while operation and maintenance are minimal.
WT: Please describe how your technology works.
Lander: The system is in a greenhouse! Yes, a net oxygen producer with no odours. Our system absorbs carbonates and carbon dioxide, and no NOx production either.
ALGAESYS employs naturally occurring algae and other photosynthetic microorganisms to deliver full treatment of wastewaters to high-quality reuse standards. Unlike conventional bacterial systems, our organisms are robust to toxins and shock loads, delivering reliability.
We actively exclude conventional bacteria, and our intensive process produces Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) creating a photo-chemical free radical chain that destroys persistent pollutants and disinfects.
Most of the processing energy is delivered by photosynthesis with less than 0.2 kWh per cubic metre of wastewater treated being served by photovoltaics on the roof (or other renewable source).
Consequently, we are energy autonomous. We do not use chemicals and do not produce toxic sludge
WT: Is the system capable of destroying PFAS?
Lander: We are looking to better understand the mechanism by which our system removes and destroys “forever chemicals” and are looking to collaborate with interested parties.
We believe ALGAESYS can play a cost-effective role in destroying these and other intractable chemicals. However, the road to success for this application will require significant innovation and validation.
WT: Tell us about your projects.
Lander: We developed technology in the United States and China and during that time trialled a range of wastewaters--municipal, mixed industrial park, and recirculating aquaculture systems (both salt and freshwater).
Our first facility in the USA was so successful that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources purchased a system in 2014 which has been operating continuously to specification ever since.
We are now establishing showcase projects in Western Australia and Spain, and developing opportunities in Portugal, UAE and Southeast Asia.
WT: Any other milestones?
Lander: We self-funded the technology development, the establishment of the business and our key component tooling. In 2022 we then received seed funding from an individual investor who has now established our Australian business – and we opened an office in Perth at the beginning of this year.
WT: What’s next?
Lander: We are looking at developing technology licenses with partners in various parts of the globe, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia in the shorter term.
We are in discussions with our Australian partners and a fund to execute the delivery of a large number of circular water systems for First Nation communities. The fund will make a return based on the trading of carbon offsets generated.
ALGAESYS SA is focused on the development of circular solutions for industry, food and beverage, data centres and tourism, with expansion into others as our extensive R&D program perfects the applications.
WT: And one final thought...
Lander: We believe the ALGAESYS system of decarbonized waste resource recovery is the treatment system of the future for a circular economy – water, energy, and nutrients.