Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some facts about Eliminite Recirculating Trickling Filter


Eliminite was developed in Bozeman, Montana in 1994 in response to evolving water quality regulations developed by Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).   The new regulations identified nitrogen, due to its potential mobility in the vadose zone, as the contaminant of primary concern.  Between 1994 and 2004, no formal classification for nutrient removal systems existed in Montana. However, early results from the Eliminite technology were so promising that MDEQ allowed them to be installed on a case-by-case basis until the formal rules were prepared.  By the time MDEQ finalized the regulations, Eliminite systems had been in use in residential, commercial and community applications throughout Montana for 10 years.  Also during this time, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) completed an in-depth field study of four onsite treatment technologies, including Eliminite, which focused on identifying wastewater treatment technologies capable of meeting Montana’s maximum allowable effluent nitrogen concentration of 24 mg/L and 60% minimum nitrogen removal.   At the conclusion of the 18-month study, Eliminite was recommended for approval at the highest classification in Montana, Level II treatment.  Three patents have been issued for the Eliminite system and its proprietary components, including MetaRocks lightweight treatment media for growing microorganisms.

Eliminite are now used in hundreds of homes, businesses and government facilities in Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and California. 


Eliminite is a fixed-film biological reactor with recirculation and alternating aerobic/anoxic treatment processes.  While many models and configurations targeting a variety of wastewater constituents are available, the most basic configuration consists of a single primary tank (septic tank) and a single Eliminite treatment tank.  The treatment tank houses the fixed-film bioreactor, recirculation/storage volume, level control and effluent pump(s).  

MetaRocks fixed-film media:

Eliminite systems utilize patented, proprietary treatment media called MetaRocks.  MetaRocks media represents a significant improvement over other types of trickling filter media common to the industry.  Long-term use has proven that MetaRocks possess superior treatment characteristics which are absent from other types of fixed-film systems, including the following:

·         High specific surface area in excess of 60 ft2/ft3 provides ample surface for microbial attachment and biofilm development.

·         Large void volume exceeding 70% ensures low headloss for efficient air transfer through entire media bed.

·         Large average pore diameter of 0.5 to 1.5 inch translates to nearly zero clog potential.

·         Rough surface speeds time to maturation and enhances water holding characteristics.

·         High hydraulic loading capacity, 250 gal/(min* ft2).

·         Polar surface is hydrophilic and wets completely with water.

·         Thin liquid surface film allows oxygen to penetrate into the full depth of the developed biofilm.

·         Light weight at 7 lb/ft3 allows for deep media bed with no additional structural requirements imposed on the tank manufacturer.

·         MetaRocks are free-flowing and take the shape of the vessel they occupy while retaining their superior hydraulic and biological properties.  This allows for their use in virtually any type of tank.


Versus suspended growth systems

·         Fixed-film systems are known to be significantly more resistant to upsets caused by flow variation and varying influent wastewater strength.

·         Because nitrifying organisms prefer to embed into a biofilm, fixed-film systems provide superior nitrification capability. This leads to reduced potential for microorganism washout during high flow periods.

·         Operational complexity of suspended growth systems demands skilled operators be available for frequent monitoring, adjustment and maintenance in order to keep the system functioning at adequate levels.  Eliminite is naturally biologically complex but mechanically simple.  No special skills are necessary to operate the system and achieve exemplary results.

·         Small scale suspended growth system have almost no operational control and are therefore incapable of responding to, or being manually manipulated to accommodate, wastewater characteristics that deviate from design parameters.  Eliminite is designed with many degrees of freedom allowing a good deal of control and manipulation.  It is possible to “fine tune” the system with a high degree of precision.

·         Air blowers are energy hogs and suspended growth systems with their large, noisy blowers will consume far more energy than an Eliminite fixed-film system.

·         Cold weather slows biological activity and the only pragmatic method for improving treatment levels in a suspended growth system is to increase oxygen to the aeration basin.  This results in greater quantities of cold air being injected into the system and further degradation of the treatment process.  Heaters are commonly employed in suspended growth systems during winter months to alleviate this problem.  Obviously, heating wastewater, will add significant operational expense.  Eliminite was developed in, and designed for, a cold climate and does not exhibit the severe, cold weather, degradation in effluent quality seen with suspended growth systems.


Versus other fixed-film systems

·         Most commercially available fixed-film systems are manufactured around a “pod” arrangement.   Pod based system leave little flexibility to the design engineer other than the specification of more or fewer pods.  Pods are generally manufactured out of state and potentially in another country, providing scant benefit to the local economy.  Eliminite works with local engineers and suppliers to develop a wastewater treatment system configuration that fits the clients project and meets budget demands.

·         Rather than stringing multiple pods together, Eliminite prefers to simply install a larger single tank.  This reduces piping complexity, O&M procedures and helps conserve heat vital to the treatment process.

·         Eliminite uses patented MetaRocks trickling filter media which have large open passageways for air transfer.  Textile, foam cube, peat moss and other similar media exhibit high porosity but this porosity is comprised of very small pores.  Biological organisms and even liquid will quickly bridge these miniscule voids rendering them ineffective for air transfer or treatment.  

·         MetaRocks have a rough polar surface because the surface is highly textured sand and recycled glass.  Textiles and foam cubes are smooth and, because they are manufactured from plastics, are non-polar.  It has been shown that a rough surface will develop a biofilm more quickly than a smooth surface meaning that MetaRocks will reach optimum treatment levels more quickly.  Surface polarity relates to a materials ability to be wet with water.  The sand and recycled glass surface of MetaRocks are polar and therefore easily wet.  A non-polar surface, in contrast, is wetting resistant and water will bead, much like water on a waxed surface.  Beading is an undesirable characteristic of plastic media systems.

·         MetaRocks do not require cleaning or replacement.  Textiles must be washed and cubes require fluffing because they cannot support their weight plus the weight of the biofilm.  Textiles have a tendency to stretch over time and will need to be trimmed periodically.  Manipulating the media in a system that has been in use is a dirty and potentially hazardous job.

·         MetaRocks have structural integrity and are suitable for deep trickling filter beds.  A deep bed has many advantages including smaller footprint, superior resistance to cold temperatures and highly efficient nitrification potential.

·         Eliminite can use fewer small access risers and lids because MetaRocks do not require invasive maintenance procedures.  This means lower heat loss in cold weather and dramatically reduced visual impact.  Fewer access points also reduce the potential for unauthorized entry into the system and results in a less visually obtrusive end product.

·         Eliminite does not require a telephone up-link.  One can easily be added, reporting any number of parameters, if desired.

·         MetaRocks were designed specifically for use as a fixed film media. Their size, shape, surface characteristics, weight, and structural integrity are specific to their purpose. Most other media used in the industry use materials that were intended for other uses
and have various drawbacks when applied to the wastewater industry.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Results from the lab and other things

I thought you might like to see some more lab results from an actual system that has been in use for about 5 years.  In that time the owner has not had to replace or repair any equipment.  The fixed film MetaRocks media looks like new and has never needed to be hosed off, fluffed, trimmed or removed for cleaning.  The system is technically a single residence treatment unit but serves a duplex in one of the coldest areas of Montana.  As you can see on the attached lab analysis, the results from the system are pretty good. 

Allow me to be candid,  but we all know what the numbers from onsite systems look like.  We all have seen the full page advertisements for 16 mg/l TN from some study halfway across the world.  If you take a look at the dozens of studies and tons of marketing material manufacturers are so proud of, it is clear that the Eliminite results below are off the scale great results .  This fact becomes even more compelling if you consider that the system has received no maintenance, it receives only annual inspections.  I realize the statement that our systems produce superior results without the constant babysitting necessary to keep other systems running is sacrilegious to regulators, but it is the truth.  

Last years lab sample taken from the system showed TN at 9 mg/L.    Apparently Eliminite gets better with age.

These numbers above are consistent with the third-party testing that was recently completed in New Mexico.  We were part of a state funded study looking at maintenance requirements for several systems.  Eliminite had the best overall numbers and averaged about 7 mg/L TN for the duration of the study. 

It is interesting that our TN results form a tight grouping and are not scattered all over the place like most systems.  One manufacturer I spoke with is of the opinion that individual system results should not carry as much weight as the statistical average of all their systems.  Honest!  I am not making this up!

Following his logic, convoluted as it may be, means that if I were to get pulled over for going 80 mph in a 55 mph zone, I should be able to argue that my average speed since I left home was under the speed limit and get off without a ticket.  In reality you would probably get two tickets: one for speeding and another for being an idiot.  How can you even argue with such tripe?  It seems more reasonable to me that each system must stand on its own.  The problem with that approach would be that most manufacturers would have to exhume 50% or more of their units and retrofit with Eliminite.  Well. not a problem for Eliminite anyway.

We are doing just that, exhuming a system and replacing it with an Eliminite, at a convenience store.  The current onsite system included all the promises and rhetoric about how wonderful it it is.  Too bad the discharge permit did not consider a weighted average of TN, glossy brochures, fancy marketing and big promises.

Onsite Installer article

Onsite Installer featured two of our highway rest area systems in last months issue.  We learned before the article went to publication that the true influent nitrogen concentration is generally between 400 and 500 mg/L TN.  This makes our 28 mg/L effluent TN even sweeter.  I am in the process of reducing the effluent TN further. I will post results here soon.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News from Colorado

Amanda and I have been in Colorado for most of this week, meeting with our friends and co-workers in the engineering and onsite profession. 

As you can imagine, Colorado is beautiful this time of year, the snow is still deep on the highest peaks and I don't know if the valleys and lower elevations have ever been so green.

We visited several jobs that have been recently completed and a few that are ongoing.

Red Sky Ranch

We have been working with Vail Resorts Development Company for about 12 years and have completed several cluster systems and many individual onsite systems.  These photos show an individual system being installed. The owner decided to use Front Range Precast tanks (one tank for the septic tank and one tank for the Eliminite) for this installation.  Discharge is to a pressurized bed absorption field.  Thanks to Don O Dell for this efficient design and expert installation.

State Bridge
Ask anyone who knows State Bridge and you will hear things like, "That place is awesome!"  An outdoor music venue destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 2007, State Bridge has risen from the ashes and is once again drawing large crowds to hear bands play in their amphitheater on the Colorado River.  Led by a dedicated team of music lovers, State Bridge provides tepees, cabins and yurts for people to rent.

Eliminite is proud to be a part of State Bridge's rebirth and revival.  LKP Engineering and Pete Petrovski of Innovative Septic Technology, Edwards CO provided the design and installation of the 320C System. 

We are starting to see a real departure from the way the onsite industry here has been doing wastewater.  In the recent past, most people only knew of one brand of onsite system and that system dominated the market.  But, we have been meeting with regulators, engineers, builders and homeowners, and we are beginning to see a significant shift away from the big guys. 

I'm sure that price plays a major role in the initial decision; our estimates have been dramatically lower than the big guys' prices.  The interesting thing is, we have held our prices at a fair level and have not played games with the numbers.  We've just committed a lot of time, effort and consideration to keeping our prices reasonable; we work with local suppliers, we choose not to invest disproportionately in costly advertising and marketing campaigns, and we've steered clear of the common business model of using multiple middlemen, which quickly translates into big markups.  As an example, Eliminite and one of its primary competitors in CO--I'll call them "Brand X"--provided quotes for a 6 bedroom home in Colorado.  Our price for the entire system was literally half of the Brand X quote.  What happened on the next job quote is significant:

This time, Brand X (probably determined not to lose another job to us) dropped their price by $14,000!    In one step, they reduced the price they would have normally charged the consumer by $14,000.  There is a lot one can read into this tactic:

1) They have been severely overcharging their customers because they have enjoyed a near-monopoly for years. 
2) They are deeply concerned about Eliminite in Colorado.
3) They are pretty ticked off.  I mean, we forced them to walk away from a $14,000 gravy train that they have enjoyed at the expense of the consumer.

I predict there will be some concern and dissension at the Brand X offices because, suddenly, their blank check has been taken away and they will be forced to provide a fair job for a fair price...that is where the rub will be--fairness.  Today's economy is vastly different than the economy of years past.  Consumers are no longer willing to accept the first bid they receive from the most obvious source; they are doing their own research, and they know an unfair price when they see it.  When construction loans were flowing freely, consumers often overlooked unfair prices, trusting their contractor and engineer to find them the best deal.  Contractors and engineers often went with the most commonly known brand, because it's what they already knew...years of intense marketing, lobbying, networking and advertising efforts made Brand X the go-to brand for most onsite professionals.  It was easy, obvious, and cost wasn't much of an issue.  However, today's consumers are taking matters into their own hands because resources are more scarce.  When they receive a $40,000 bid for an onsite system for a modest home, they start looking for an alternative.  Eliminite is that alternative.

Even with Brand X's dramatic $14,000 price reduction, Eliminite's price is still lower, and its maintenance requirements are significantly less onerous.  So, cost savings are substantial, not only up front, but also long term.

My long-term goal is to move the discussion away from the fact that our prices are lower so that we can discuss results, reliability and design.  I have posted quite a few real-world, cold-weather results on this blog, and it is easy to see that Eliminite is not only a viable alternative to the Big Guys; Eliminite is, in many ways, the superior alternative. The treatment results are more consistent and reliable, the system is far less susceptible to upset, and the maintenance requirements are minimal.  Our more reasonable prices might be the first thing people notice about Eliminite, but it only gets better from there.  We're looking forward to another year of record growth.