374Water’s WEFTEC win highlights the importance of resource recovery

Updated: Jul 19

‘Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.’ This line by famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge back in 1854 couldn’t have been more relevant today. 785 million people, or one in nine people today lack access to safe water. Nearly one million people die each year from a water-related disease. An even more alarming fact is that every two minutes a child dies in such circumstances. Women and girls across the developing world spend an estimated 200 million hours every day collecting water. This lack of water creates a poverty lock-in particularly for women. It is estimated that universal access to clean water would result in economic benefits worth $18.5 billion each year. [1] On the other hand, fresh water and sea water bodies are being perpetually polluted every day. In the US, the EPA estimates that about 1.2 trillion gallons of sewage from residential and non-residential sources is dumped every year into the country’s adjoining waters. In other words, we produce 3.3 billion gallons of sewage a day putting natural ecosystems and underground water tables at risk and affecting not only the environment but also human health. [2]

Although in developed countries, domestic wastewater is treated at large, centralized wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), there is ample evidence that environmental pollution disproportionately affects the poor, minority groups, and those underserved in our nation. Air, water, and soil pollution due to incineration, industrial manufacturing runoff, land disposal, hazardous waste sites, combined sewer and sanitary sewer overflows, and a lack of transparency from waste producers too often results in those most vulnerable having to bear this terrible burden. For instance, among small rural water systems in Quebec, those serving areas with more material deprivation (based on income, education, and employment) were more likely to have lead levels of health concern and less likely to have advanced water treatment. [3] An analysis of California health data suggested that about 250,000 Californians sometimes go without water due to insufficient supply or are exposed to contaminated water, and that many of these residents “reside in rural, economically disadvantaged communities”. [4] The value of clean water has time and again proven to provide a backbone for proper societal functioning to generate economic, social, and environmental value. Converting these challenges to opportunities, in fact, is driving the global water and wastewater market that is estimated to reach $674 billion by 2025 highlighting the global industrial wastewater treatment market at a CAGR of 5.8 percent. [5][6]

Water Environment Federation's Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), the world’s most comprehensive gathering of water quality professionals and thought leaders, highlights the above mentioned need for clean, accessible water. One such important aspect of the WEFTEC is the Innovation Showcase that provides a platform for technology exhibitors to showcase the water sector’s cutting edge solutions and innovation. This year there were 18 impressive technology companies that were part of the WEFTEC Innovation Showcase. The companies were voted for after watching their short pitches. After rigorous voting sessions, 374Water Inc. was voted the 2020 WEFTEC Innovation Pavilion champion for our Supercritical Water Oxidation (SCWO) technology that brings its resource recovery value propositions to the forefront to help solve the global problem of access to clean water, energy, and food.

Why SCWO?

The clean water we know today still may have dangerous contaminants such as pathogens, chemicals such as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) also more easily referred to as “Forever Chemicals”, drugs, and microplastics. These contaminants are leading to stricter regulation limiting reuse and driving up the cost of treatment and disposal. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that large centralized WWTPs will be built in developing countries due to massive capital required to build and maintain a centralized treatment system. Decentralized treatment is the only viable option to solve the sanitation crisis.

Supercritical Water Oxidation, on the other hand, is an advanced oxidation method that can treat a wide range of organic wastes, in particular wet wastes and slurries such as biosolids, sludges, agricultural wastes, chemical wastes and many more. It is a transformative technology that utilizes the unique properties of water above its critical point: 374°C and 221 bar (705 °F and 3200 psi). At these conditions, in the presence of oxygen, organics are rapidly converted to water, inert minerals and gases, and reusable heat with more than 99.9 percent volatile solids reduction (VSR).

Supercritical Water Oxidation Value chain

The magic number of 374°C, which is the critical point of water, is the foundation of the company name ‘374Water’. The company’s name reflects the innovative engineering of 374Water’s AirSCWO systems. 374Water is the first company in the world to develop a SCWO sanitation treatment system with patented self-sustaining reactor technology. We offer prefabricated, compact and efficient waste processors that convert organic waste into clean water within seconds. Invented by 374Water’s founders from Duke University in the United States, the processor provides a compact, clean, energy-neutral and sustainable solution at an affordable cost.

Importance of resource recovery

Another aspect that 374Water’s proprietary SCWO solution contributes towards is the nexus between water, waste, energy, and food. 374Water’s AirSCWO Systems excel in reducing animal manure’s carbon footprint by treating manure all the way to clean water and minerals. Originally designed to be deployed in developing countries, the process only uses ambient air as the oxidant which makes the system safer and inexpensive as it does not require extensive and costly pure oxygen supply or infrastructure. The system also generates its own power so that it can operate off-the-grid. It can co-treat any organic sludge or waste including food waste, plastic, waste oil and more and recover mineral rich fertilizers as by-products. Combined with vertical farming, these systems can make a compact, on-site, resilient waste-to-food and specialty resources production system, which can be deployed anywhere in the world. This new compact, effective decentralized technology disrupts the existing capital-intensive sanitation value chain. It opens the gateway to a circular economy, new business models and private-public partnerships which are more sustainable and more cost-effective.

Resource recovery with SCWO - Value Propositions

374Water’s AirSCWO units can be located inside communities, effectively contributing towards decentralized treatments since they are not producing odor or polluting emissions while mitigating six-ton CO2-eq for every ton of waste processed. They eliminate long-distance hauling and reduce landfilling and GHG emissions while saving O&M costs. These systems are omni-processors for organic wastes, as they are feedstock agnostic (fecal sludge, biosolids, food waste agriculture, plastic, paper & other industrial wastes). They provide higher sludge treatment in terms of both volume reduction and elimination of emerging contaminants and persistent organic pollutants.

UN sustainable development goals

The 374Water solution has been successfully demonstrated at industrial scale in over 100 test campaigns and over a thousand hours of operation. It is truly disruptive and has the potential to shift the global wastewater sludge, biosolids and industrial waste treatment paradigm toward one that supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, strengthening the sense that we are all in this together and are working toward the same objective.


Arunika Chandra

[1] https://water.org/our-impact/water-crisis/

[2] https://www.organicawater.com/effects-wastewater-environment/

[3] https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-018-0442-6

[4] https://pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/water_and_environmental_justice_ch3.pdf

[5] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/water--wastewater-treatment-market-worth-67472-billion-by-2025-hexa-research-643914303.html

[6] https://global-recycling.info/archives/3127#:~:text=According%20to%20its%20current%20analysis,a%20CAGR%20of%205.80%20percent.

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