The idea that microscopic bacteria could cheaply and efficiently cleanse oceans of industrial wastewater may seem far-fetched. But it is just this premise that launched BioPetroClean, a Texas-based cleantech company with research-and-development facilities in Tel Aviv.
In fact, the technology is so effective that $57.5 billion industry giant Dow Chemical just announced a global commercial agreement whereby it will market and distribute the Dow-BPC Water Treatment System internationally. The agreement includes exclusivity across significant oil drilling and refining markets.
“The selection of the BPC solution by a worldwide leader such as Dow is a great endorsement that can enable massive deployment of our new and exciting technology,” says David Amir, CEO of BioPetroClean.
BPC’s automated chemostat treatment (ACT), based on decades of research by Tel Aviv University microbiologist Eugene Rosenberg, takes advantage of the hearty appetite displayed by certain bacteria for oil and other contaminants.
Wastewater cleansing is facilitated by three low-cost, “green” elements: a microbe mixture customized for each specific application, a control unit, and a tank that serves as the reactor.
Cutting down on sludge
The natural process reduces common water contaminants – such as petroleum hydrocarbons and ammonia, among others – to levels well below American government standards. As a result, wastewater treatment plants increase efficiency while cutting down on sludge destined for landfills.
Amir tells ISRAEL21c that even he was skeptical that such a simple system could work, let alone well enough to address a vast range of problem areas including oil refineries, storage farms, drilling sites, diesel-powered electricity generator stations, marine ports, and reservoirs.
“I have done several crazy things in my life,” says Amir, an entrepreneur whose résumé includes top executive positions with Nur MacroPrinters, software startup Paspartoo and Scitex. “If you have the ability to think differently – and I do – sometimes it produces nothing and sometimes you can hit a bonanza. You just have to dare.”
Before establishing BPC late in 2006 and successfully wooing investors the following year, Amir and his management team did six months of market research and decided to concentrate their efforts specifically in the area of industrial wastewater.
“Nobody in the wastewater industry is using the chemostat process,” he says. “We came in with a fresh [approach].”
A focus on oil storage terminals
One of BPC’s first projects was decontaminating water produced by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), home to one of Israel’s largest oil storage facilities. Today, in addition to the Dow partnership, the company has expanded marketing of its off-the-shelf and tailor-made solutions to companies in South Africa, India and Europe.
“Mainly, our business is with oil storage terminals,” Amir relates. “We’ve done work in some refineries, and with Dow we can reach many more.”
The Dow initiative is starting in the US but Amir anticipates that by next year, projects will start being implemented at refineries in additional countries, such as India. “We have plenty in our pipeline,” he says.
“Dow BPC Water Treatment System has immense potential for communities, the oil and gas industry, the environment and our business,” says Janet Gisselman, president and general manager of Dow Oil and Gas.
Amir also anticipates that the R&D facility will quickly grow from its current staff of 20 biotechnologists and engineers to about 100. The Israelis design each treatment system and supervise implementation by BPC’s subcontractors. “We have the brainpower we need; we only need to multiply it a few times,” Amir quips.
One-time treatment options are also available. “As a per-project pay-for-what-you-get offer, BPC’s ACT in action is unmatched in the industry,” Amir concludes.