May 2, 2016
5 Reasons Why Investments in Water Fail – and How Process Modeling Can Help Identify Winning Technologies
The water & wastewater industry has generated a lot of investment interest and activity over the last decade. It is estimated that in the 4 year period from 2010 to 2014, venture firms invested $1.4 billion in about 400 water technology companies.
The investment interest in water is not surprising. Water is without a doubt the most undervalued and under appreciated critical resource available to human kind. It is plentiful – 70% of the earth's surface is covered in water. But fresh water – the type that is in rivers, stream lakes, and in groundwater reserves – which is what we typically use as a source for drinking water, makes up only 1% of all the water available on earth.
The other 97% of water on earth is brackish, salt laden water. If sufficiently treated to remove the salt, it is also fit for human consumption, but the cost of treatment is high – about 10-20 times higher than the treatment costs for freshwater. As the ancient mariner once said, there is "water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink." Freshwater is what is in demand and there is an awfully small amount of that available.
The water crisis is made worse by rising population, extended droughts, increasing urbanization, climate change and other factors are affecting the availability and access to fresh water reserves. It has been projected that the conflicts of the future will likely be driven by geopolitical interests that are centered on access to fresh water reserves.
Investment Opportunities in Water & Wastewater
The opportunity for investments in water lies in five key areas – minimizing losses in the water distribution system, reducing the overall cost of treatment for water & wastewater, enhancing safe (waste)water reuse, promoting conservation & sustainability and utility operations.
Utility operations has been an area of extensive investment activity in water for decades. The activity of startups and new technology development efforts has been in the other 4 opportunity areas.
Another way to think about water sector technologies is to think of them as demand or supply side applications. Demand side tech are focused on the end user. They include APPs, software, or metering systems that help consumers track their water usage, compare their consumption to others', monitor usage costs and benchmark their carbon footprint. Supply side applications are focused on the treatment and delivery systems that are used for treating drinking, process or wastewater. They include enhanced separation, aeration, disinfection and collections systems technologies. They are intended primarily to increase revenue opportunities for utilities and/or reduce the cost of water treatment.
Enter the Technology Gate Keepers and Enablers
Over the last decade, a number of "gate keeper" tech evaluation and Accelerator programs have emerged in the industry, with the stated aim of working to streamline the massive deluge of startups and technology development activity in the industry. These efforts such as the Artemis Top50, Imagine H2O challenge, etc. have allowed investors to identify startups that are bringing cutting edge technology solutions to the water sector.
The primary mode of operation for these Accelerator initiatives has been the staging of challenges and the provision of access to venture funds and growth supporting resources for promising firms. ImagineH2O for instance claims that its accelerator participants represent 1 in 10 dollars of early stage investment in the water industry since 2009.
While there is no shortage of information on how much money these accelerator and innovation tech competition programs have allowed their participating firms to access, what is not as readily available is the success rate of these firms.
The Five Pitfalls that Investors and Innovators Should Watch Out For
As the largest developer of process modeling & design software in the water & wastewater industry, we have a front row seat to all of the cutting edge action taking place in the water space. After all is said and done, any successful supply side technology must become integrated into a process modeling & design platform. The consulting engineers who implement the technologies and the operators who run them want to know what the implications of these techs will be for their overall operations. Firstly, they want to be sure that their ability to meet their permit requirements will not be compromised by the new tech. Secondly, they want to ensure that their operators are able to operate the new technology systems or processes. And finally, they want to understand how the technologies will be impacted by rare, but typical occurrences such as storm events, equipment failures and shutdowns, etc.
In addition to serving as a final integration point for innovative technologies that break into the mainstream, our principals have over 30 patented water technologies and decades of water tech commercialization experience – so we know how innovative technology works in the real world of water & wastewater treatment. We are one of a handful of firms that get the call from the utility that wants to know how a tech that has been proposed to them will fit in their plant; or from the technology provider that finally realizes that without developing a process design model that lays out the fundamental mechanisms of how their technology works, they will be not make headway with the engineering community that utilities turn to for support when adopting new tech.
These are the five major pitfalls that we see standing in the way of companies and technologies that struggle to gain traction in the water industry:
PITFALL 1: Lack of Knowledge of Fundamentals
It is hard to believe but there are firms out there that simply do not seem to grasp the fundamentals of how their tech operates. Without understanding the underlying mechanism of what makes your technology work, field trials become a crap shoot. Too many technologies sound like voodoo.
Water is pretty straightforward. Yes, there might be a heck of a lot of different organic or inorganic contaminants that need to be treated, and maybe a ton of microorganisms that facilitate the process. But the science that underlies the treatment process is pretty robust. Here's a simple guide. If the underlying reason for why your tech works cannot be explained and grasped by a fairly technically literate person in the field then you have a problem. If you cannot predictably understand how your technology will scale across flow and organic loading conditions, then you have a really big problem.
Finally, if you cannot predict whether you will succeed or fail in a pilot based on your knowledge of the fundamentals of your process then you certainly do not have a technology that will inspire confidence in a regulated environment like the water industry.
PITFALL 2: Adopt the Right Model for a Cautious Industry
In the water industry, you don't get a prize for being the most innovative water or wastewater utility. You get brownie points for being consistently on point - meeting your regulatory permit limits and providing a safe product to your rate payers. You can have the greenest and lowest carbon footprint facility, but if you have lead or Microcystin (algae toxins) in the water, or excessive organic matter in your wastewater discharge, you have failed.
This implies that the water sector has few analogies to the consumer goods markets where early adopters are ready to pay more for an innovative product – even if it has some quirks and rough edges. The idea of disruptive innovation also has a different threshold of acceptance in the utility business. A disruptive innovation can have one very promising feature but some "not so great" features when compared to the alternative. Think about digital cameras. The first ones off the shelf had poor picture quality and long shutter lag. But they offered the convenience of not requiring development, and being able to hold lots of images on a portable drive. In the utility industry, the innovation can lag in any other area (cost, operator oversight) except one – it must never, ever compromise water quality. Also, unlike other business where the bottom line comes down to profitability alone (reduce cost, increase revenues, or both) the winners in the public utility industry are those who can consistently meet their limits - all else is extra.
What are the implications of this compliance focused outlook? It implies that an innovative tech must be rock solid. You have to know its strengths and its failings. You must have some pretty good sense for what it will do in the field. If it is a filtration based technology, you will need to understand how different constituents in the water might impact fouling rates or membrane life. If it is a disinfection product, you must have a firm grasp for how variables like flowrate and organic loading affect performance.
The utility industry is a cautious one that expects you to pay in most cases to trial your innovation. And by the way, the trials should be at a scale that counts. Knowing your sweet spot in terms of utility size can help you select the right trials. Organizations like Water Environment Research Federation (WERF) and Water Research Foundation (WRF) have programs that match innovative tech provider with utilities that are willing to provide their facilities for pilots and trials in the wastewater and drinking water treatment industry respectively. On the industrial side, organizations like Petroleum Environmental Research Forum (PERF) offer similar trialing opportunities.
In the United States where much of water & wastewater treatment is still public, there is significant scrutiny of investments. It is hard for utilities to raise money for new and "untested" technologies. Also, there is a culture within the industry of only trusting data that comes from one's own plant. With each pilot test taking from a few months to years, and with the skills shortage at many utilities – the bar is quite high. Innovators should seek opportunities to participate in these multi-facility, industry supported trials wherever possible. It saves time, resources and effort. Because these trials also involve engineering firms and consultants, a major hurdle to adoption is also addressed at the same time as the onsite validation.
If you are really sure about your technology, and your innovation is not regulation critical (e.g., a new aeration technology, a novel dewatering technology or smart control and monitoring system) then you might want to attempt a bold strategy to finance the adoption of your own tech. If it works, the utility adopts. If it fails, you take it out at your own cost. Few utilities that have a real need ever turn such an offer down. But doing this requires really knowing what your odds for success will be.
PITFALL 3: Be Aware that There is a Poor Track Record of New Technologies
In almost every utility where my colleagues and I have trialed new technologies, there is no end to stories of failed trials that they had embarked on before. The industry's legendary caution with new tech will be better understood when viewed from this context.
Again think about it – we have had record sums of money being invested in water startups over the last decade, but where are those winning technologies? How many have found adoption in the utility sector beyond ta handful of trial sites? On the supply side, we are certainly not seeing as much growth in uptake of new tech commensurate with the activity on the investment side.
I have never seen any assessment of the fate of the companies that were past recipients of the Artemis Top50 or the Imagine H2O awards. We know many of these awards recipients have been successful in raising funds – the award hype helps - but how well have they fared in successfully deploying their technologies and rolling out commercially? What is the real track record of the accelerator programs? How have water startups fared compared to those on the social media and enterprise solutions side?
Raising funds and attracting investors is only the first step in the journey to success in the water and wastewater sector. The next and most important step is to get one's technology adopted – and to go commercial. That is where the failures rack up. Many of these technologies make sense in the lab, but fall short in the field.
It should be obvious by now that taking care of PITFALL 1 reduces the risk of seeing failures during field pilots. Success requires that you know the fundamentals, and develop robust models for how your tech will perform in the field.
PITFALL 4: Know your Competitors
I am often amazed by how little innovators and technology developers know of competing technologies. Water and Wastewater industry is global. Chances are that whatever brilliant technology you have come up with addresses problems that are already being solved in the industry, in some way. This has to be the case because it is a regulated industry and whatever that problem is that the facility needs to meet in their permits – they are more than likely already in compliance.
A new technology might provide value through a cost reduction angle, enhance revenues (e.g., by alerting to non-revenue water lost through leaks, etc.), or provide a sustainability advantage such as lower carbon footprint. Or better still, combine elements of enhanced profitability and sustainability. Too many tech providers cannot tell you what the competing alternatives are for their innovation. They know their own costs pretty well, but make all kinds of assumptions – and you can guess, non-flattering ones – about how the competing alternatives work.
They cannot tell you what plant wide effects their technologies will have, what the impact on plant operations will be, or what specific differences in treatment efficiency can be expected by adopting their tech vs others. This is always a recipe for disaster. A field trial shouldn't be the place to learn these details. The tools already exist for assessing competing costs and operational impacts. Tools like CapdetWorksTM, provide plant designs as well as capital and operating cost information, to within ±15% accuracy while process modeling and design software allow the robust determination of plant wide operational effects.
PITFALL 5: Know your Market
Markets are different – what works in one geographic area, or one sector (e.g., industrial vs municipal; public vs private) may not work in others. The US utility market is largely public. Although private sector actors like Veolia, American Water and United Water (Suez) are increasingly taking on contract operations of public utilities, majority of US utilities are still public sector financed.
Another key feature of the North American market is that consultants rule. Nothing gets done without consultants. No technology gets adopted without the blessings of consulting engineers. Consultants do not have as much say in Europe or in China. In Europe, where privatized utilities have existed for over a century, much of the expertise that consultants provide is available within the utilities themselves. Utilities in Europe are more open to adopting innovative technologies, and continent wide frameworks like the Framework Program (FP) for Research & Development provides significant funding for innovative tech trials and encourages collaboration between academics, innovators, startups and more established firms.
In Europe, many utility contract operators are massive construction and environmental technology conglomerates with annual revenues in the billions of dollars (e.g., Acciona, Agbar, Veolia, Suez). They have large R&D budgets that rival what many top universities spend on environmental studies and have access to a large number of facilities that they operate, and can use for their trials. Because they are in it to make money, they are also open to non-internally developed technologies. The large size of the contract operators and their generous resources also implies that facilities have a network of expertise they can tap into to manage any teething issues with innovative technologies.
However, success in Europe does not translate to success in North America. If you are trying to break into the North American market, then you must understand that consultants are gate keepers. They don't get paid for being innovative. They get paid for being right. Accessing consultants cost money. And any post installation support of an innovative technology will more than likely also require that the utility pay for the services of the consultant. No technology can make headway in the US without consultants being comfortable. That means they must be convinced of its efficacy and confident that there will be no surprises if they recommend it to their clients. This makes the availability of robust process models more important in the US than the European market.
How Process Models Can Help Enhance Adoption of New Technology – the SURE concept
Models can help make technology adoption SURE by allowing for:
Safe evaluation of scenarios;
Understanding of competing technologies;
Reduced adoption risk;
Evaluating real costs of implementation.
In the chemical process industry no new technology can be adopted without first using process models to replicate its pilot scale performance and then on the basis of that, developing full scale plant models.
Water and wastewater treatment should be no different. In the last 30 years companies like Hydromantis, WEST (DHI), Envirosim and others have extended and enhanced the capabilities of process models for handling the complex hydraulic, biochemical and physical chemical processes that take place in water and wastewater utilities.
At Hydromantis our simulators have been used for the last three decades by consulting engineers for upgrading and designing new water & wastewater plants, regulators pricing the cost of new environmental standards, and by inventors seeking to know how their technology stacks up when compared to existing alternatives in terms of both performance and cost.
Models enhance predictability – a key attribute necessary for a utility focused technology. For instance, during a trial, a model can alert to the fact that there might be an initial acclimatization stage during the pilot when a facility might struggle to meet its goals as the microorganisms acclimate to the new process conditions. Without a process model, this event might seem like an anomaly, causing both surprise and concern that things are going wrong – sometimes prompting trials to be shut down just before they succeed.
Process modeling software are not the magic bullet that will solve all the world's problems – but they can and should play a more important role than they currently do in our industry.
Table 1: Major technology & investment focus areas in the water & wastewater industry, and the role that process models play in enhancing technology adoption
|Investment Focus||Comments||Drivers||Technology Focus (examples)||Role of Process Models|
|Minimize water losses||Reduces estimated losses of 10-30% of treated water in delivery pipelines.||Reduce non-revenue water and eliminate wastage.||Smart meters, leak detection, data analytics; smart irrigation systems||N/A|
|Reduce the cost of treatment||Targets reduction of energy, chemical and operational costs for water & wastewater treatment||Enhance viability of private water operations; Reduce the cost of brackish water treatment||Novel materials that reduce membrane fouling; Energy recovery & reuse processes; Nutrient recovery||Technology evaluation; cost comparison; full plant effect|
|Enhancing safe direct potable water reuse||Reduces evaporative losses of treated wastewater returned to surface waters; potentially reduces cost for water treatment||Address water scarcity challenges through reuse of treated wastewater; minimize pressure on raw water supply; potentially reduces treatment cost||Tertiary treatment; disinfection; removal of micro pollutants||Cost evaluation; fate & transport of key contaminants; scale effects|
|Promoting conservation and sustainability||Reduces the volume of water usage; minimizes energy use, carbon footprint and/or greenhouse gas emissions||Demand side applications aimed at cost reduction and/or enhancing environmental stewardship||Demand usage monitoring systems; carbon footprint estimators; energy efficient tech||Quantification of sustainability impact - carbon footprint, resource recovery; implementation cost|
|Utility Operations||Involves the privatization of public water utilities and/or the contract operations of industrial water assets||Enhance operational capabilities of privatized operators; enhance profitability of utility operations||Operations enhancers - minimize non-revenue water losses; energy efficiency; resource recovery and reuse; tech enabled operations||Operator training; evaluation of plant wide effects; tech implementation costs|
Dr. Malcolm Fabiyi is President of Hydromantis USA – the leading water & wastewater process modeling & design software firm. He worked as a consultant in McKinsey & Company. Dr Fabiyi was CTO at Environmental Operating Solutions, Inc; and also led the Water & Wastewater Research & Development and Commercialization effort at Industrial Gas Giant Praxair, Inc. He holds numerous patents for commercialized water technologies.
April 21, 2016
Using a "Flight Simulator" Concept to Support Succession Planning and Operator Training in Water & Wastewater Utilities
There are two big changes taking place in the environmental utility sector. Firstly, tighter regulations are leading to increasing complexity in utility operations and secondly, the baby boomer generation that started out in the industry in the 1970s and 1980s is retiring.
The changing regulatory landscape and increasing complexity in operations
Regulations are changing – quickly and furiously. The activated sludge process was invented about 100 years ago. For the first 80 years (through the end of the 90s), the major focus of wastewater treatment was simply the removal of solids and organic carbon. A well designed wastewater treatment process simply needed to have sufficient aeration to support carbon removal.
Then came the wave of Nutrient removal requirements starting in the late 1990s, as communities in the Mid-Atlantic and North East bordering water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound and a host of other sensitive water bodies started to address the problems that excessive nutrients (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) were having on their precious water resources.
The resulting effect has been an explosion of new technologies and processes. Membrane bioreactors, denitrification filters, biofilm media reactors, thermal hydrolysis, advanced oxidation, granular sludge systems – have now moved from laboratories squarely into the heart of the wastewater treatment process.
On the drinking water treatment side, utilities now have to deal with challenges like eliminating the risk of toxins like microcystin from algae, chlorination byproducts, etc.
The graphic below captures the changes taking place in the wastewater industry – observe the blank spaces in the first 70 years, and then the explosion of regulations and new technologies in the last 3 decades!
Bye-Bye Baby Boomers, Welcome Younger Operators
In the United States, the water treatment industry took off in a big way with the enactment of the clean water act in 1972. Now, all communities were required to do water and wastewater treatment. Tens of thousands of water and wastewater plants were built, and existing facilities were upgraded to meet the new requirements. A crop of 20, 30 and 40 year olds signed up to become operators. Now, those pioneering operators are silver haired, and starting to retire (see graphic below). This age group makes up well over 60% of the operator population in many facilities.
The environmental utility sector has an informal apprenticeship based training model. New operators learn from older operators. This group is now retiring – with their process knowledge and experience locked up in their minds. As an industry, we do not have good knowledge management practices. Each facility pretty much has to figure things out for themselves.
While industry wide certification and licensing programs help ensure that operators have some necessary skill sets and process knowledge, each treatment plant is unique, and learning must be customized for a particular facility.
Enter "Flight Simulator" Platforms for Operator Training
In the airline industry, pilots must first learn to fly in simulators before they are put in an actual air craft. Even experienced pilots must still routinely meet some training hour requirements in simulators. In the nuclear industry, simulator based instruction is a key part of an operator's required training.
The common thread between the airline and nuclear industries is the fact that both industries cannot afford any margin of error. A pilot cannot learn to land on the job – that will need to be honed in a simulator. A nuclear plant operator cannot afford to wait until a critical incident happens before understanding what steps will need to be taken to maintain safe operations.
There is also no margin for error in the water and wastewater industry. Our facilities are regulated, and every deviation from permitted values in the air emissions, liquid discharge or solids make up might be reportable incidents. Worse, the violations could even lead to public health & safety hazards.
For the last decade, Hydromantis has led the way in developing 3D simulators in the utilities industry. The process starts when a calibrated computer model of the facility is developed using Hydromantis' GPS-XTM process modeling platform. Next, a bird's eye view or SCADA interface shots of the facility are taken. These are then used to develop a 3D or SCADA interface that has the exact look and feel of the facility's treatment process or SCADA screens. We call this operational tool, SimuWorksTM.
All the operational changes that are made in the facility can be done using the SimuWorksTM platform – with the exact same outcomes. The following case studies highlight the different applications of SimuWorksTM.
Case 1: Supporting Facilities Undergoing Upgrades and Transitions
The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC) in Ohio State and Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department in Arizona State operate multiple facilities that address the sewage treatment needs of millions of customers.
Bird's eye view of a wastewater plant in Cincinnati and the representation of the plant in SimuWorksTM
Over the last decade, Hydromantis has supported both utility agencies in developing plant wide process models and 3D interfaces in SimuWorksTM.
Plant overview and SimuWorksTM interface for the Tres Rios Wastewater facility in Pima County, Arizona
In both districts, the simulators have been successfully used to support the following applications.
- Manage the process design & upgrade process
- Process control strategy evaluation
- "What-if" scenario operations planning
- Operational planning for shutdowns/scheduled maintenance
- Operational planning for wet weather operations
- Process optimization – energy savings, chemical cost savings, aeration optimization, etc.
- Operational training and "flight simulator" based learning
Case 2: OCWA – Operator Training and Certification Using SimuWorks
Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) is the largest operator of water and wastewater facilities in the province of Ontario. The agency is a trainer for the Ministry of the Environment's mandatory certification renewal courses. OCWA partnered with Hydromantis Environmental Software Solutions to develop a SimuWorksTM based interface that could be used as a basis for the certification program as well as operator training at their facilities.
The SimuWorksTM platform replicates SCADA and human machine interface (HMI) systems at specific OCWA facilities. The interface allows users to review and test a variety of operational variables.
The tool has been used by operators and managers to identify and validate plant optimization and cost-saving strategies, trouble shoot process issues, analyze projects and operational risks, and forecast plant capacity and maintenance needs.
Operators at the Belleville (Ontario) Water Control Plant work on a troubleshooting scenario
during a Sewage Simulator Solutions Course using the SimuWorksTM platform
Case 3: WEF Operations Challenge
Competitors in the annual WEF Operations Challenge now participate in a simulator enabled process control event based on Hydromantis' SimuWorksTM platform. According to Mike Ross, Chair of the WEF Ops Challenge Process Control Event, "the incorporation of a simulator based platform into the WEF Operations Challenge is a reflection of the recognition that simulation is a process skill."
In the event, competitors are presented with operational challenges that they are required to solve. The issues they are required to deal with range from aeration limitations, to nutrient removal, biological and chemical phosphorus removal, equipment shut off, off line aeration tanks and clarifiers, etc.
Competitors working on the simulator based Process Control Event at the Water Environment Association of Texas (WEAT)
Regional Operators Callenge Event in Fort Worth, Texas in April 2016
Simulation-based training tools provide a sophisticated, yet readily accessible method for supporting succession planning, enhancing process knowledge, optimizing operations and implementing process strategy in an experiential, risk-free manner. SimuWorksTM can be deployed as a full-scale replica of an actual wastewater facility plant layout or the facility's SCADA system. The platform offers a user-friendly, customized interface that replicates not only the physical look and feel of the operator control interfaces at the facility, but also incorporates all of the operational variables that can be changed or monitored at the facility.
In summary, the benefits of simulators for training include:
- Providing a safe learning environment: Simulators allow emergency and abnormal situations to be realistically addressed without risk to the operators, staff or populations. The operator can be exposed to extreme situations such as wet weather flows, high organic loading spills, equipment failure, and other such emergencies without the risk of system or process failure
- Enhancing the learning experience: By removing the risk of system and process failure, the student and instructor can focus on the learning experience
- Enabling a broad range of scenarios and situations to be tested: Simulators offer the flexibility to test out conditions that have either been observed historically, or even novel conditions that are yet to be observed, but which might plausibly occur
By providing these benefits, simulators enable less experienced operators to fill vacancies in existing operators' pools more readily, and they can be used for getting new or seasoned operators familiar with new processes. Furthermore, simulators enable operations to be reviewed, repeated and varied until they become ingrained in the operator and internalized.
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March 22, 2016
Hydromantis - Water Environment Federation (WEF) Roll out "Flight Simulator" Computer Based Operations Challenge at South Carolina Environmental Conference
A Bold New Frontier
On Sunday March 13th, 2016 the wastewater industry crossed a major new threshold. For the first time in the history of our profession, simulation software was incorporated into the industry's most high profile, competitive event – the WEF Ops Challenge, during the South Carolina Regional Qualifying Event.
About the WEF OPS Challenge
The Water Environment Federation's Operations Challenge (Ops challenge) is THE premier competitive event for operators in the global wastewater industry. The Ops Challenge competition tests the skills of operators in five (5) events that include – safety, laboratory, process control, collection systems and maintenance. Each participating team is sponsored by a WEF Member Association or recognized Operator Association.
Starting with regional events in the US, Canada and Germany, teams compete for a place in the finals, which take place during the annual WEFTEC event. The WEFTEC 2015 event had 44 competing team, including two from Germany. Winners are determined by a weighted point system for five events (collection systems, laboratory, process control, maintenance and safety), each designed to test the diverse skills required for the operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment facilities, collection systems and laboratories.
Heralding a New Dawn
About a year ago, the WEF Operations Challenge committee expressed their vision for the inclusion of a simulation based challenge into the process control event. The process control part of the test has traditionally been a paper and pencil test.
Hydromantis was uniquely positioned to make this vision become a reality. For the last decade, we have pioneered the development of "flight simulator" styled platforms that provide facilities with 3D process simulator interfaces that can be used for operator training, facilitating plant optimization, enabling "what-if" analysis and supporting facility planning.
Bird's eye view of a wastewater plant vs 3D version of the Plant in Hydromantis' SimuWorksTM Platform
"Flight Simulator" of Wastewater Treatment
Just like a "Flight Simulator" the OpTool provides users with a realistic three (3) dimensional operational environment. Hydromantis' platform for the WEF Ops Challenge called the "OpTool" provides multiple challenge questions (poor BOD removal, Biological and Chemical Phosphorus removal, Nitrification failure, energy and chemical cost optimization, etc.) that feature realistic operational issues that the operators are required to address in order to bring the facility into compliance. The OpTool also features a countdown clock. To make the required operational changes, operators click on the relevant unit processes (e.g., aeration tanks, sludge wastage tanks, clarifiers, etc.), make the required adjustments and run the simulator. The real life implications of taking the specific actions are then reflected in the simulation output.
An Example Screenshot of the OpTool
Kevin Ganley (Left) & Troy Newton (Right) of the Controlled Chaos Team Set a Record as the First Team to Take Part in the Simulation Based Process Control Event
Teams Taking the Ops Challenge Simulation Event
Simulation programs like the OpTool are the future of our industry. As regulations become more stringent and facilities are increasingly adopting new technologies and operational strategies to meet nutrient removal or resource recovery goals at their facilities, simulators that allow operators to be trained in a risk way, while also providing a platform for process optimization will become increasingly integrated into plant operations.
As they have always done, the industry leading operators who compete in the WEF Operations Challenge are blazing the train and demonstrating that process simulation is indeed a process skill, and that they have what it takes to master this platform for enhancing operations.