HYBACS crosses the pond

The agreement announced today that BwB’s HYBACS wastewater treatment technology is to be marketed by Suez Environnement’s Infilco Degremont means that Bluewater Bio is entering not only the world’s largest market for water and wastewater systems, but one with a unique potential for innovators.

The US EPA’s Clean Watersheds Needs Survey for 2008 was presented to Congress in 2010. These surveys are a snapshot as the federal nature of the nation means that no state is obliged to report to Washington, but almost all do and they capture the essence of the nation’s state of play when it comes to wastewater infrastructure.

Since the Clean water Act was signed in 1972, the number of people served by tertiary systems has leapt from 7.8 million to 113.0 million. The 2008 survey found that $298.1 billion needs to be spent on the USA’s wastewater infrastructure over a 20 year period in order to get it into good shape. $105.2 billion of this should go on wastewater treatment plants ($59.9 billion on secondary treatment and $45.3 billion on advanced / tertiary treatment), a cool $21.3 billion increase on the 2004 needs survey estimate.

In 2008 secondary or tertiary plants served 222.5 million people (73% of the population) with 16.9 million served by direct application to the land (‘beneficial reuse’) and 3.8 million having at best basic treatment (‘raw’). Septic tanks cover the 21% of Americans unconnected to the sewerage network. Many of these facilities are already in place and the emphasis is very much on rehabilitating, upgrading and expanding them.

The USA has communities of all sizes, with 58% of spending needs taking place in eight states, each needing at least $10 billion, while 69% of facilities serve just 10% of the population and account for 9% of the spending needs. Crunching the numbers, it is clear that the size of advanced works is rising while those of secondary facilities stay steady, showing how the tertiary facilities are concentrated on the larger communities.

Secondary 1972 2008 2028
People served (million) 32.5 92.7 89.1
Facilities 2,838 7,302 7,015
People per facility 11,451 12,695 12,701
Tertiary 1972 2008 2028
People served (million) 45.7 113.0 161.2
Facilities 2,719 5,072 5,909
People per facility 16,080 22,279 27,280


The need for improved efficiency comes through, with Operations and Maintenance rising as a percentage of total local wastewater spending from 50% in 1988 to 60% today.

Now there are spending needs surveys and there are surveys about what actually gets spent. In 2002 the US Congressional Budget Office estimated that back in 1999 that $9.8 billion was being spent each year on wastewater capital projects and debt servicing, against needs of $13.0-20.9 billion. The funding gap has not gone away and the needs keep on rising.

How can HYBACS help?

The US Budget Deficit and a difficult economic outlook means that new Federal funding cannot be relied on, so utilities and communities have to do more with less money.

A real strength of HYBACS is its ability to allow sites to be upgraded and expanded at a significantly lower cost than conventional sludge treatment processes while delivering performance in full compliance with the applicable US EPA standards. With a 40% smaller footprint, it also frees up space on a site, providing headroom for increased treatment capacity and helping the operator to develop new assets such as sludge to energy.

The fact that the HYBACS process optimises sludges for nutrient and energy recovery means that the operator can plan for the longer term in mind, without any additional costs.

Finally, HYBACS helps to claw back escalating operating costs by reducing energy needs by 50% through its product life. Funding freed from O+M can go into accelerating debt servicing and funding new projects, helping to turn the US EPA’s ‘needs’ from what ought to be done to what can be done.