Ostara: Clean Water can make money!
By: Serina Penner
Clean water is essential to the industries that drive and help our economy to grow. But what do we mean by “clean”? The processes involved in cleaning water are varied; almost as varied and numerous as the companies that provide new and innovative solutions to get the job done.
Founded in 2005, Ostara offers an example of how important cleantech could become for heavy industry. They are a (self-proclaimed) “clean water company that recovers valuable nutrients from used water streams and transforms them into a slow-release fertilizer.” They do this in a way that is not only unique in its technology, but in its surprising addition to a sustainable economy.
The technology, called Pearl®, is able to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from used water streams. This is achieved by extracting phosphorus and ammonia from wastewater where it then crystallizes and eventually forms sizable pellets that can be used as fertilizer. This fertilizer, called Crystal Green®, is then packaged and sold in bulk for a profit.
Steve Wirtel, Senior Vice President of Nutrient Recovery, believes that this technology will be a game changer for many industries that are facing increasing regulations; or are looking at new ways to decrease costs. “Let’s just think about phosphorus for a second,” explains Wirtel. “Not only is there limited access to the mineral, but there is increased demand.”
He is not wrong – with increasing populations comes increased pressure on food production. “The phosphorus that we, in North America, generally use is mined in Florida. It then must be processed and transported to farms and other agricultural businesses. Wouldn’t it be neat if we could use a product that is not only local to help provide local food production, but sustainable as well?”
From an environmental standpoint, Wirtel is very clear about the benefits. Phosphorus based fertilizer, as it stands in its present form, leaches into both soil and surrounding water systems. In excess, phosphorus can cause harmful algae blooms that can damage marine life. It is also incredibly hard to remove, leading to increased use of other chemicals to remove the phosphorus from the run off of some water treatment facilities.
According to Wirtel, this is where the greatest profit can be made. No longer do industries facing high phosphorus output need to use and buy such chemicals. They can clean their water of this resource while being sustainable and profitable simultaneously.
Ostara currently has projects across both Canada and the United States which are proving Wirtel’s point. Examples of Ostara’s systems can be found in Edmonton, AB (demonstration site), and four commercial sites in the U.S. including two in Portland, OR, one in Suffolk, VA and one in York, PA. Ostara also has several more sites under construction, including in Saskatoon, SK and London, UK.
Applying this technology to other industries beyond wastewater are already underway. Wirtel explains that application in ethanol production process would also be valuable, considering the runoff from this industry is high in phosphorus. Pilot tests are underway, and Wirtel says things are looking very good.
The greatest challenge to Ostara and its future, much like any new cleantech company, is making big business see the possibilities within the profit margins of these kinds of technologies.
Applying Ostara’s technology is no guarantee to significant financial gain, but it is does carry the promise of a low impact industry and a more sustainable future for us all.
Curious about how this technology works? Click on the video and learn more.