Wade into Wastewater — The Swirltex Revolution
A $22B industry quietly seeps through farmlands, gets injected underground where it can no longer be accessed or used, and flows through pipes and streams such that 53% of river and stream miles, 71% of lake acres, 80% of estuarine square miles, and 98% of Great Lakes shoreline miles that have been assessed are classified as impaired by the US EPA .
Yup, you guessed it — We’re talking about slimy, sludgy, pollutive wastewater.
Wastewater is not a glamorous topic. It’s so big and messy ~ literally ~ it’s often hard to comprehend the problem and harder to know where to start solving. But we’re all connected to it, and we’re solvers; so here’s some important things to know and one very exciting, innovative company taking our wastewater problems by storm.
What’s the Sitch
Huge volumes of wastewater are generated in the oil and gas industry, and terrifyingly projections show that these volumes are going to increase. Most of this wastewater is managed through oil recovery to reuse the water, or through the barbaric and archaic process of underground injection  — i.e. let’s put it out of sight where it will obviously lead to massive environmental and ecological repercussions like earthquakes and land deterioration, but that’s everyone else’s problem. Not to mention, in places where drought and water scarcity are a huge concern (like the entire American west), some states and stakeholders are starting to ask if underground injection makes sense. Cue the surprised pikachu faces.
And we already know that the oil and gas industry is a huge perpetrator of wastewater creation, but every farm that produces agriculture (all of them), every city that produces sewage (all, again), and every manufacturing facility that makes things (hello), produce wastewater that we need to deal with. $22B of it.
To break it down, the best solution is to treat wastewater such that 1.) The water is clean enough to release and reuse (this means getting rid of chemicals, bacteria, and solids); 2.) The oil filtered out can be reused; and let’s take it even further 3.) The energy use and cost is drastically reduced so that 4.) Everyone makes money, saves money, and the environment wins.
Hint, this is exactly what a revolutionary company called Swirltex has achieved, but real quick let’s talk about the limitations of current wastewater treatment methods (the ones that don’t involve burying toxic water (but let’s not forget that that happens a lot)).
We need processes that don’t use chemicals
In the U.S. chlorination is the most common means of disinfection, which is often followed by dechlorination because of chlorine’s tendency to deteriorate the ecological health of receiving streams and produce carcinogenic byproducts. Other chemical additions of ferric salts and lime improve solids removal but unsurprisingly create life cycle impacts through their production and transportation . Physical filtration membranes are not traditionally used for water treatment due to high degrees of fouling and operational maintenance. In other words, the water is so gunked up that it blocks and often brakes the membranes.
We need to cut down energy use
Wastewater treatment systems reduce environmental impacts, but their biggest life cycle impact is energy consumption. The energy and chemicals used to treat wastewater create major greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Electric Power Research Institute, 2% of all US electricity use goes to pumping and treating water and wastewater2. In 2018, an estimated 14.2 and 5.0 million metric tons CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) of methane and nitrous oxide, 2 of 3 biggest contributors to global warming, resulted from organic sludge degradation in wastewater treatment systems — 0.3% of total US greenhouse gas emissions .
According to a May 2020 report on Input on Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management Practices Under the Clean Water Act by the EPA (keep in mind this is a Trump Administration EPA), “there is broad support amongst the oil and natural gas industry and its service providers for additional wastewater management options including to treat and discharge produced waters more broadly. However, support is not universal as some oil and natural gas companies are satisfied with the current regulatory structure and others perceive liability concerns associated with alternatives such as discharge” .
The thing is, discharge west of the 98th meridian (Kansas, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma) is already allowed in the regulations, but use of what’s called the beneficial reuse provision is rare. The study cites this is primarily due to “the availability of other wastewater management options that are lower cost” and the “cost associated with treating produced waters to a level suitable for discharge.” Just like the plant-based meat industry and many other sustainable alternatives across global industries, solutions need to be cost effective and cheaper than the harmful current options.
Swirltex: 50% energy reduction, zero chemicals used, and for only 1/5th of the cost
Swirltex is a new form of wastewater treatment, and CEO Melanie McClare and technological founder Peter Christou are on a mission to turn wastewater into a valuable resource.
The Product: A proprietary membrane filtration system that removes contaminants suspended in wastewater at 150% efficiency of current methods. Membranes are not traditionally used for water treatment due to high degrees of fouling and operational maintenance. The water contains so many contaminants that they often block and break the membranes.
Through a breakthrough combination of vortical flow and contaminant buoyancy manipulation, Swirltex has solved this huge barrier to the water filtration industry.
Swirltex membranes are so advanced, they can filter out bacteria that previously required chemical intervention. And without the need to use chemicals in their process, Swirltex membranes can recover oil from the wastewater, a greater than $100K/year value for just the small amount recovered in one of their pilots.
Their system can be directly integrated into the existing infrastructure of normal operations, and Swirltex is looking at $1.8 M revenue in 2021 after several successful pilots in 2020 that have led to contracts and future deals.
Swirltex helps communities transform wastewater into revenue, could ‘close the circle’ on the oil and gas industry’s water needs, piloted at the Edmonton International Airport, treated wastewater at an Antarctica Research Station, and they’re coming for the food and beverage industry next.
Their flexible business model allows for pilots, rentals, and sales catered specifically to the needs of the industry and company. They uniquely can adapt to any wastewater need across most industries without compromising performance. Vineries (a $400B industry), for example, require wastewater processing for only one season while they harvest their fruit, making the rental model incredibly attractive across the globe.
Swirltex has been praised for its highly effective, extremely low-cost solution
ARC Resources is an Oil & Gas company located in Alberta, Canada that produces 158,911 barrels of oil equivalents/day in crude oil, natural gas, and condensates . Swirltex ran a 3 month pilot with them in 2019 and cut their costs by over 5X in that time. But that wasn’t what caught ARC’s attention. Swirltex’s system was able to filter out a type of bacteria that previously required chemical intervention. With their clean purification methods Swirltex was able to recover oil from the runoffs; a value north of $100K/year for just the small amount recovered.
For the final month of the pilot, the unit ran smoothly with zero stoppages, a huge win for the durability and efficiency of the Swirltex brand. The management team of ARC Resources is currently in conversations to deploy Swirltex’s capital for longer term wastewater processing.
The Town of Crossfield wanted an economic, effective and scalable solution to their wastewater problem. The alternatives cost anywhere between $4-$20M. However, Swirltex cost only $1.5 M and output higher quality water. Crossfield has hundreds of lagoons that require filtration within the next 10 to 15 years. The municipality has the budget to spend $20–25 million on the effort, and Swirltex is a leading contender for this opportunity after such a successful pilot. The company will now undergo approval for large scale national projects.
The future of Swirltex
Swirltex’s immense potential has not gone untapped. In 2018, Swirltex raised $1.4 million in their first round from angel investors. They’ve received innovation grants of up to $700K from the Canadian government, as well as a $1.1 million grant from SDTC to scale up wastewater treatment in the Canadian oil and gas industry.
CEO Melanie McClare, BS, MBA, is a wastewater industry veteran, having served as a Sales Manager and Project Manager over 10 years at a large Canadian wastewater firm. Peter Christou, the president and inventor of the technology, is a force in the wastewater space. He holds over 16 years of experience in water and environmental engineering, having served in leadership roles across membrane companies as well as water treatment organizations.
Swirltex is currently raising $1.25 M in seed funds with $1M committed so far. Their lead investor is Mazarine Ventures, and they have received additional innovation grants of up to $1.1 M. If you are interested in joining the Vectors Angel syndicate for Swirltex, please contact Jane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- U.S. EPA (2020) Summary of Input on Oil and Gas Extraction Wastewater Management Practices Under the Clean Water Act.
- Electric Power Research Institute (2013) Electricity Use and Management in the Municipal Water Supply and Wastewater Industries.
- U.S. EPA (2020) Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2018.
- Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan (2020) U.S. Wastewater Treatment Factsheet. Pub. No. CSS04–14