December 3, 2019

Forward Water takes the waste out of industrial wastewater

We use water everyday; water for washing, water to drink, or water used for sanitation. When Howie Honeyman thinks of water he thinks of industrial wastewater, the kind used in the oil and gas industry that generally ends up being boiled, buried, or burned.

Howie is part inventor, part academic and part businessman. Sporting a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Toronto and 40 patents, Honeyman has over twenty years experience commercializing advanced materials and new technologies. Honeyman’s current focus is water, particularly the remediation of wastewater that is permanently lost today. For example, a common method for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) is to introduce water or steam in the reservoir, resulting in significant quantities of wastewater. Due to challenges in its treatment, wastewater generated by oil and gas extraction is often disposed of through deep well injection, which eliminates any recycling or reuse opportunities.

Honeyman’s company, Forward Water Technologies, is dedicated to commercializing a proprietary forward osmosis technology. That is why Howie jumped at the opportunity to apply for Alberta Innovates funding through the Water Innovation Program (WIP). Forward Water received joint-funding through Alberta Innovates and Sustainable Technology Development Canada. With $1 million in public funding Howie was able to secure an additional $1 million in private capital to take his new technology to market.

Forward osmosis is a treatment technique that produces clean water through the passive (low-pressure) transport of water across a membrane by a chemical solution, leaving behind salts, organic matter, and other contaminants. Forward Water Technologies has developed an effective and energy-efficient forward osmosis process where the chemical draw solution is converted to a gas for separation from clean water and recycled in a continuous closed-loop process. This technology has the potential to improve the environmental footprint of industrial operators by increasing wastewater recycling and enabling the safe return of treated water back to the environment.

Honeyman says the WIP funding allowed him to build and operate a field pilot water treatment unit capable of processing 15,000 litres per day of wastewater. This project will assess the commercial readiness of the technology and provide key information required to build and operate a full-scale mobile treatment facility. Private investors are often cautious about investing in new technology that has not yet proven successful at the demonstration scale. Without support from AI and SDTC, Honeyman is convinced that this project would not have been possible. Therefore, both the science and the future commercial application of the technology is enhanced by Alberta Innovates funding, support and expertise.

Local businesses are already seeing potential in this technology. Terrapure Environmental is a leading Canadian provider of essential environmental and industrial services for industrial, commercial and institutional customers. It operates four facilities in Alberta, including a lube oil recycling facility in Airdrie. This facility was found to be a perfect location to host a collaborative project between Terrapure and Forward Water. Jeff Rowein is the facility’s Branch Manager and he sees significant potential in a continued relationship with Forward Water as a result of the project. Terrapure’s VP of Innovation, Technology and Business Development Mike Paszti agrees, calling the FW technology a potential game changer, which could provide savings to customers and reduce the need for costly and unsustainable disposal means such as incineration – very much aligned with Terrapure’s Changing Waste for Good brand promise. Howie’s technology could be used on a contract basis or be moved to full ownership and operations after units are ordered.

The Water Innovation Program is designed to achieve the goals of Alberta’s Water for Life Strategy. The knowledge and technologies developed in this program will help to create a cleantech industry in water treatment, support 30% improvement in water use conservation, efficiency, and productivity by 2030, and provide safe, secure, and reliable water resources for up to six million people while maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems.