Keith Jacobs, CEO, ElectraMet
Photo Credit: ElectraMet
Listen to the complete interview with Keith Jacobs in an episode of our On the Line podcast above or read and excerpt from the interview here:
Wastewater treatment and reclaiming of heavy metals from wastewater streams is a constant topic of interest for finishing operations. As the regulatory landscape continues to evolve and requirements become increasingly stringent, finishers find themselves constantly reassessing their wastewater processes. Recently, Products Finishing sat down with Keith Jacobs, CEO of wastewater solutions provider ElectraMet, to talk about the latest sustainability trends for wastewater treatment.
Tell us about ElectraMet’s current technology and the role it plays within the metal finishing industry.
ElectraMet is based on advanced carbon electrode technologies that allow us to surgically target single metal ions at a time and remove just those. For example, I could remove just copper or chrome six or silver or lead. We can target single metals to remove them, within the ElectraMet cell. We have a regeneration process, where we can essentially backflush that cell, reverse the polarity on the electrodes, and then run that solution into a concentrated regen solution that has that particular metal — copper is one of our favorites. So, we can increase the concentration of the copper to the point that we can then go back in and recover that using electrowinning, or some other traditional processes. Obviously, you need to have a concentration that’s high enough to be able to do that — thousands of parts per million. Most of metal finishing wastewater streams don’t fit that. But, we have the ability to concentrate it up and recover it. In the case of copper, we can recover it as cathode grade copper and put it back into the economy.
Relative to the metal finishing industry, the target is your wastewater treatment and how we can improve that process. I’d be quick to add that in a lot of conversations we have with folks in the metal finishing industry, when we say ElectraMet or carbon electrode technology, it kind of conjures up a lot of the other electric chemical processes that they might be aware of, like electric coagulation or electric deionization.
Most of those technologies use a tremendous amount of power, kilowatts, or even megawatts in some cases. An ElectraMet cell typically uses just a few watts.
Can you talk about the potential for reclaiming/recycling some of these metals might make (both from an environmental perspective and also as a way to make use of these materials rather than disposing of them)?
If you’ve heard the term circular economy, that’s a big part of what we’re focused on doing. Instead of taking your wastewater and creating a sludge and dumping it into a landfill — what if you could actually recover that metal?
Obviously, as you get metals that are more and more expensive, there’s even more of a benefit. Silver is one that we’ve done recovery of. Nickel and tin are both metals that we have in development — we’ve done those separations and recoveries in the lab where we can essentially recover the nickel and tin and create a sheet of it, and sell it back into the market at near spot prices.
So, one of the things I hope your audience would get is this — there’s money in your water. I think most of them already know that. It’s kind of a shame to be dumping all of that down the drain. What if you could recover it?
That’s a key part of what we’re doing. In fact, relative to metal finishing, a lot of our customers simply start off with the focus on recovery rather than discharge compliance as an initial step: What if we could just start recovering valuable metals out of the wastewater stream?
How does ElectraMet work with finishers who have existing wastewater treatment systems?
It’s not uncommon for a metal finisher to come to us with a 30-50-year-old — or even older — wastewater treatment plant with a clarifier and equalization tanks that are literally falling apart because they’re so old. They say, “If we’re going to replace this, there’s got to be a better way than doing it the way we did 50 years ago.” Oftentimes, that is the start of our conversation.
But there are also plenty of times when there’s a reluctance to bring in a new technology that they have no experience with and take the risk of putting their discharge permit on the line. So oftentimes, what we end up doing is more of a stepped approach. What if we could just start recovering some of those valuable metals, which will reduce the load on your existing wastewater treatment? That gets you comfortable with the technology. As you get experienced with it, start talking about discharge limits.
Obviously, the regulatory landscape factors largely into the work that you do — helping finishers meet requirements within their location. What advice do you have for finishers who are trying to prepare for what’s on the horizon?
Let me answer that first by making kind of a broader comment. The term that I hear used over and over these days is sustainability. Is your wastewater process sustainable?
I think the bottom line is that if what you’ve been doing in terms of wastewater treatment is not truly sustainable, then you need to start thinking about what you are going to do in the future. The coagulant process — producing a sludge that is being dumped in a landfill — is not sustainable for the long run, from what we see.
Listen to the complete interview with Keith Jacobs in an episode of our On the Line podcast. Visit short.pfonline.com/OTL24.