Growing the Dewatering Industry: New Uses for Familiar Equipment

If you’ve ever traveled to a Mexican resort and been served a glass of tap water, have you ever wondered what that cloudy stuff floating around is? It’s alum, a chemical compound used to remove silt from well and other surface water. It is difficult to remove completely through conventional dewatering systems, however, once alum has done its job.

Increasingly, companies that focus on dewatering and degreasing equipment are finding that their equipment can be modified, opening up a whole range of exciting and profitable uses. JW Massey of Aqua-Zyme Disposal in Van Vleck, Texas believes removing alum is one of those uses. The company has long been an innovator in the degreasing and dewatering industry, designing and manufacturing equipment and operating extensive composting businesses throughout Texas. One of Aqua-Zyme’s facilities, for example, turns millions of gallons of grease and sewer sludge into odorless compost.

Finding ways to treat sludge and reuse water from that sludge is the focus of companies that develop equipment for the dewatering and degreasing industry. Simply put, the goal is to efficiently and safely remove sludge, silt, alum and other similar debris from water, allowing the “cleaned” water to be reused on site.

Aqua-Zyme Disposal is a good example of a company that is finding ways to serve customers in less conventional areas. The company has re-designed some of its dewatering boxes so they can treat drinking water sludge. Sludge in drinking water? Massey explained that when municipalities get their drinking water from creeks, wells or other so-called “surface water” sources, it generally contains silt. Water treatment plant operators add alum to the water in order to remove the silt. Most of the alum, but not all, is removed through the treatment process. The remaining sludge, however, is quite watery because not all of the alum mixture is removed.

Normally, the sludge water is hauled away in a vacuum truck, and the water
is taken somewhere to drain out of the mixture. With Aqua-Zyme’s new dewatering boxes, a greater percentage of the liquid can be removed. Massey said, “For every ten boxes of liquid that had been hauled away, a municipality now has one box of dry sludge.”

Aqua-Zyme offers fifteen- and thirty-yard boxes that can remove the super fine alum. He said one city in Texas has started using his system and is getting calls from operators throughout the region who are clamoring for more information about the method. He declined to disclose the name of the city for fear officials would be inundated with calls, “They’re all going to be wanting it,” Massey said of the new boxes, “We have had a lot of calls requesting it.”

Another example of how the industry, and Aqua-Zyme, in particular, is venturing
into new territories has to do with cooling towers at large refineries and plants. Generally, the companies use water to cool equipment inside the towers. Every ten or twelve years, the equipment inside those towers needs to be cleaned because silt, debris and other material ends up in the water and can damage the equipment. When the time comes for this maintenance, the towers must be shut down, typically for about twenty-five days, so the gears and other machinery can get a good cleaning. Massey said his company has figured out a way to clean the equipment without shutting down the towers.

A few years ago, he was at a trade show in Tennessee and he recalled that people were stopping by his booth to check out Aqua-Zyme’s dewatering equipment. They saw what his equipment could do and wondered if it could help them clean the cooling towers. Turns out, it can.

“Now, they can do it in five days without shutting down the tower,” Massey explained. “The diving company goes in, and we came up with the equipment that they can send in with the diver to suction off the silt. Before, they had to shut the plants down, which is expensive. Now, we can do it at a fraction of the cost. We get calls from everywhere about it. With the water, we just recycle it right back into the tower as we’re doing it.”

Massey, and others in the industry, realizes that only so many pumpers or city governments are going to buy equipment from them each year, regardless of how good it is or how well it works. That is why they are making changes to their equipment and looking for new uses in other fields that can benefit from their dewatering and degreasing expertise.

Transportation costs are rising, thanks in large part to fuel expenses, and haulers are always looking for ways to cut costs. They also get hit with rising expenses at wastewater treatment facilities which either do not want to accept the grease or sludge or are charging astronomical rates for the service. Plus, no one wants to pay to treat a product that is mixed with water, especially if that water can be removed before it is hauled away. In short, the dewatering equipment can separate solids from liquids, cutting transportation and treatment costs.

Joe Dendel is founder and president of Prime Solution, a Grand Rapids, Michigan area company that focuses on dewatering, mostly at municipal water and wastewater treatment plants. Helping cities use the company’s products, including its hallmark Rotary Fan Press and its components, is something Dendel sees as vital to the company’s success and growth, “We have expanded the line to make more sizes available. Originally, our customer base was a 1 mgp (million gallon per day) municipal plant. Now our plants are up to 50 mpg per day.”

Prime Solution has in-house engineers who can work with plant operators to ensure that the dewatering equipment is used as efficiently and economically as possible. “For a machine that costs $100,000, and lasts for over twenty years or more, the maintenance costs are less than $1,000,” Dendel explained. He went on to say, “Our approach is more of going to the customer and solving their problems in a simplified manner that is also low cost. Our equipment is smaller, totally enclosed. Over the life of the equipment, maintenance costs are less than 1 percent.”

Flo Trend Systems is another Texas-based company involved in the filtration and liquids and solids business. Russ Caughman, vice-president of Flo Trend, agreed that finding ways to reduce the amount of sludge that is trucked to disposal or treatment sites is helping shape the future of the dewatering and degreasing industry. Transportation costs are high and treatment options increasingly are limited because of environmental issues. Together, the two issues are leading companies such as Flo Trend Systems into other applications for their equipment—with a few modifications.

For Flo Trend, one of them is a patented filter attachment on its boxes, a hook and loop system that allows for easy removal for cleaning. The system is a true time-saver for operators. In addition, Flo Trend has created thinner panels in its dewatering boxes that allow the same volume of material to flow through but with a filter area one-third greater in size, “The panels can be moved to accommodate more or less flow, depending on the need,” Caughman said. “We’re finding new uses for the equipment all the time,” he added, “Any system that produces water mixture can use this type of equipment.”

Residue from gas deposits requires a large volume of water to be pumped into deep wells. That, in turn, produces “fracking,” a process that helps extract the natural gas. The resulting water mixture of salt, oil and other material, in the past, had been hauled to waste water treatment plants. The issue is complicated because such treatment plants are designed to remove mostly bio solids, so some of the well waste was ending up in rivers, causing concern with environmentalists about the processes. New equipment designs for those and other types of dewatering needs, such as removing contaminants from drinking water, will all be vital to growth in the industry.

Caughman, too, said his two-panel box is dealing with the alum issue, greatly reducing the volume of “wet” sludge that has to be trucked away for treatment, “We’re getting more involved with new designs,” he said.

“Other than cities or sewer plants and grease traps, there are only so many pumpers that are going to buy in a year’s time,” Massey said. By modifying equipment and finding new uses for it, plenty of growth is on the horizon. “Here we have a bigger market that will buy from us,” Massey said. “The dewatering boxes have a lot of uses.”

Maybe even a few of them will make their way to some of those Mexican resorts. 

Story by Marie Elium

Please follow and like us:

One Response to “Growing the Dewatering Industry: New Uses for Familiar Equipment”