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Water Today Title April 21, 2024
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Indigenous owned Winnipeg start-up Nibi Enviro Tech offers eco-friendly systems for water, food security, & renewable energy to off-grid communities

With over 100 communities in Canada on water advisories, we have set out to provide them with a clean water solution right at the source. Everyone deserves clean drinking water.” -- Robin Richards, Founder & Owner of Nibi Enviro Tech

Interview with Robin Richards

By Suzanne Forcese

WT: Please introduce yourself to our viewers and give us an overview of Nibi Enviro Tech.

Richards: As an active member of The Manitoba Métis Federation, I know how important it is to give back to our communities.

Straight out of high-school I enjoyed a ten-year pro-hockey career in the U.S. then returned to Winnipeg and got into sales. Three years ago, I founded Nibi because everyone deserves clean water and food sustainability.

Nibi (meaning “water”) is a hybrid off-grid containerized water treatment plant. It’s the first system of its kind in Canada to combine renewable energy requirements with water treatment and sanitization. We aim to improve Indigenous health and access to sustainable, clean drinking water through innovation.

We have designed modular water treatment plants in shipping containers. The Nibi Water Purification Pod has a range of configurations and a plug-and-play commissioning process. When combined with the BioKube the system can treat both water in and water out.

As an Indigenous owned company our first focus has been remote Northern Communities. With over 100 communities under water advisories in Canada we have set out to provide them with a clean drinking water solution right at the source.

Our system can produce up to 28,000 litres of potable water per day per pod.

Nibi also provides food security with our Health Canada approved food cultivation system that produces crops in our Nibi Agro Facility within repurposed steel shipping containers.

Northern communities have had limited access to clean water and fresh food for much too long and we are focused on turning that around.

Nibi is also the only North American dealer of the BioKube decentral wastewater treatment system that maintains local water resources with applications ranging from single homes and communities to the mining and oil & gas industries.

WT: Are all systems plug and play?

Richards: Yes. This allows the systems to be placed wherever they will have the most value. They can be flown into remote communities or driven down an ice road as either a temporary or permanent solution.

WT: Describe how you have created the water treatment plant and the agro facility.

Richards: At our facility in Winnipeg, according to each community ‘s needs we custom design our modular water treatment plants, the Nibi Purification Pod and our Nibi Agro Pods out of shipping containers. Currently we are partnered with a manufacturer in Leamington, ON, (Climate Control Nebula), and a Winnipeg manufacturer, (Delta 9).

WT: You mentioned that the Nibi modular water treatment plants use water at source. What steps are involved in providing clean drinking water to a remote community?

Richards: The Nibi Pod can be used to treat any water source. Since every water source differs our first step is to test the water.

Nibi can draw feed water from a range of sources, including bores, streams, brackish, and saltwater.

The pod can also adapt to seasonal changes in water.

We build a customized plan using several variable options. Our main form of water treatment is ozone (because of efficiency and low maintenance) and will use reverse osmosis/UV lights depending on the findings in the water sample.

WT: How is the community involved in the customizing of each treatment plant?

Richards: We meet with the community members to discuss whether the pods will be stand-alone units or connected to the community’s water system, which requires a feed water connection, drain/sewer connection, and distribution connection.

WT: How is the system powered?

Richards: We determine the electrical load and service connection and explore the best options. 

The unit can tap into the electrical services already on site. It can also run on photovoltaic (PV) solar, batteries, and a backup diesel generator. Ordinarily, water treatment systems run continuously. The Nibi system makes use of available solar power to run the plant and charge the batteries during the day.

The specialized electrical control system uses multiple power sources to purify the water. Clean water can then be collected from a pump house or fed into the community’s reticulation system.

Communities have the option to choose a Nibi Water Purification pod with a pump house, where locals can bring bottles to sanitize and fill, or tap right into current infrastructure.

In the fall of 2023, we completed a project near Dauphin, MB, on the Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve — also known as Valley River First Nation. Members of the community chose the bottling station where they have access to clean safe water round the clock.

WT: Once you have determined the needs and the specs for a custom-built water purification pod, what are the continuing services?

Richards: The pod is shipped to the community, no matter how remote. Our technicians set up the monitoring system and train any staff needed.

We use a remote support system that can be accessed anywhere in the world, helping us to pinpoint possible problems before they occur.

Because of the system’s low maintenance feature due to the ozone treatment, our technicians need only do one annual check-up.

WT: That is your ‘water-in’ aspect of the equation, tell us about the ‘water-out’ piece.

Richards: Nibi Enviro Tech is the exclusive North American distributor of the BioKube Wastewater Treatment PodPod. These wastewater treatment systems come from Denmark – a country known for its high environmental standards. BioKube wastewater treatment plants are delivered as fully equipped systems, ready to be installed.

WT: What are the applications?

Richards: BioKube is suitable for small households and 10,000 PE (personal equivalent per day) cities. It can be used at hotels or oil and mining camps. They are delivered to be installed in-ground or in containers – ideal for easy relocation and above-ground systems.

The BioKube can use a variety of technologies to treat incoming wastewater such as Submerged Aerated Filters, Sequential Batch Reactor, Activated Sludge.

The water is then treated for non-potable reuse (gardening, toilet flushing, laundry).

WT: Interesting that you include oil/mining camps. WT recently interviewed Chief Stu Jackson, Lower Nicola Indian Band, Nłeʔkepmxc Nation, B.C.

The band has agreements with the Trans Mountain pipeline and a local copper mine.

Chief Jackson laments the fact that often in their partnerships with industry, there is a breach in the agreement to uphold stewardship of the land, the water, and the environment. How could the BioKube mitigate in a situation like this?

Richards: The BioKube leaves the smallest carbon footprint possible. A great advantage for mining companies is that the system is portable. Once the mining project is complete, the system can be moved to the next site.

According to the BioKube Mission Statement:BioKube wastewater treatment systems shall always clean wastewater better than required by the local authorities, with the lowest possible energy consumption.

 BioKube will actively take part in and promote Circular Economy to help fulfill The UN SDGs by offering wastewater treatment systems where the treated water can safely be reused, and the sludge can be converted to energy or fertilizer.

WT: Moving forward what is Nibi Enviro Tech’s Mission?

Richards: Cleaning up rural communities’ water across Turtle Island.

We have seen firsthand the struggle to get clean water into remote and Indigenous communities, and it affects people every day. Everyone deserves clean drinking water, and we set out to fix this issue. Let’s help protect our planet and its people by providing the resources to access clean drinking water, clean up wastewater pollutants, prevent contamination of our land, and grow food in the harshest climates.


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