‘Chemical waste is a huge problem that simply won’t go away’ – EST’s Yehuda Simon.For Yehuda Simon, the problem was clear. After 30 years working in the industry, the Israeli chemical engineer knew that the biggest challenge facing chemical and pharmaceutical companies was disposal of toxic waste.
Today companies emitting solid, liquid, or gas waste either send it to waste treatment sites for incineration, to landfill sites for burial, to Third World countries for dumping, or shut it away inside installations where hopefully it won’t leak into the atmosphere. At best, these methods might make the chemical waste slightly less toxic, but basically they just transfer the problem from one place to another, creating environmental hazards that will be with us for years to come.
So Simon got to thinking. He retired from his job as production facility and project manager at Bromine Compounds in 2004, and set up a new company, EST (Environmental Systems and Treatments), to develop a solution to this thorny problem. Two years on, the company has developed a device that almost completely destroys the waste, converting it into water and carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere through a vent, or into materials that can be recycled by the industry.
Moreover, this all happens at the point of source. The waste no longer has to be schlepped from place to place, threatening possible environmental damage on its journey. Instead it is treated and disposed of at the plant itself.
EST’s chemical waste elimination system is based on plasma technology. In nature plasma can be found in lightning bolts. Liquid or gas waste is pumped into the system and then treated by a narrow high-powered plasmatronic beam generated inside the reactor. This produces heat of several thousand degrees (2,000 to 4,500 degrees centigrade), breaking apart the molecular bonds of the waste compounds. These compounds are then rapidly cooled and cleaned, leaving nothing but harmless gaseous products, which are in line with Israeli and international standards.
Simon says that of the waste going in, 99.99 percent is destroyed. “This is a very high rate,” he says. He calls up a page of figures on his computer to prove his point. Results from an independent lab show that the system breaks pesticide molecules from pest production waste down to a rate of 0.00014 kg per hour in the outgoing vent, compared to the regulation 2kg per hour (organic solvent), while methyl chloride is broken down to 0.0136 kg per hour, compared to the regulation of 0.1 per hour.
The internationally patented system, which is designed for any company that creates organic or chemical waste including pharmaceutical and chemical giants, medical and semi-conductor companies, and some high tech outfits, can be installed at the production plant and operates continuously.
“You can start our system when you need it, and you can also stop it as soon as you’ve finished. The molecules are broken down in tens of seconds, making it very effective in terms of energy and cost efficiency,” Simon told ISRAEL21c.
At present the system only disposes of the waste, but in future, by changing the parameters of the machine, it will also be able to break down halogenated waste such as methyl bromide, a gas blamed for causing the hole in the ozone layer, for recovery of valuable halogen acids such as bromic acid, currently extracted from the rapidly diminishing Dead Sea. These raw materials can then be recycled. Simon also hopes to further develop the system to destroy solid chemical waste.
“This is very environmentally friendly machine and promises zero waste discharge,” he said.
In 2005, after one year of development, EST set up a pilot system in a transportable 20 foot container frame and its first pilot took place that year. It was followed last year by three further pilot schemes with petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies in Israel. All the pilots have been a great success and there has been great interest in the technology from abroad.
“The companies are pleased and convinced,” says Simon. “Now we have started to talk about sales. Financially we compare very well to existing methods, but have the additional huge advantage that we are cleaner, more environmentally friendly, easier to operate and safe to use,” says Simon. “This process solves the waste problem and this is extremely significant.”
Based in Beersheeba, EST currently employs 10 people. The company is private, owned by Simon and angel investors who reputably include Asher Jospe, a former partner in Onigma and Security 7 Software, both of which were sold to large international companies. The company is now looking for investment in order to begin an extensive marketing campaign.
“We are looking for VCs, strategic investors, joint ventures or cooperation,” says Simon. “We can continue to grow slowly at our own pace, but a strategic partner can help us grow much faster and quicker.”
Simon has high hopes for his system. “Chemical waste is a huge problem that simply won’t go away,” he explains. “In Israel alone, some 100-120 tons of chemical waste are created every year. The problem for countries like the US is even larger. Up to now people have shipped the problem from place to place in the hope that it will somehow disappear. It doesn’t, and the rules regarding chemical waste disposal are getting tighter and tighter. In Europe a law was recently passed requiring every company exporting products to the continent to comply with waste disposal regulations.
“We developed our technology with these problems specifically in mind,” he continues. “I call our system high tech for the chemical industry. It’s a revolutionary step. Using our system, you no longer to store or incinerate chemical waste, instead the problem of chemical waste just disappears.”