Advanced bio-technology can significantly reduce the cost of water treatment for wineries and make them more sustainable by reducing their energy consumption.
According to Matt Silver Ph.D., CEO of Cambrian Innovation, wineries need to re-envision their wastewater from a burden to a resource. Wineries are required to treat their wastewater, but instead of bubbling the organic matter into the atmosphere through aeration ponds, the EcoVolt from Cambrian Innovation transforms the organic matter into energy that can be used in the winery. Asked to put it simply, Matt says that “wastewater goes in, the microorganisms eat the organic matter, and what comes out is methane gas and clean water.”
Matt’s background is in aerospace and systems engineering, and his team first developed the bioelectric technology behind the EcoVolt with a NASA grant to demonstrate that it could work for life support in space, before applying the technology to the needs of the wine and beer industries. After 15 months of successful field trials at Clos du Bois, Cambrian Innovation signed installation contracts with Lagunitas Brewery and Bear Republic Brewery. The company also introduced the EcoVolt to many grape growers at this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento.
In the late 90’s Clos du Bois had installed an anaerobic digester to treat their wastewater, but the need for a consistent feed level for the microorganisms made it inappropriate for a winery application. However, an article published about the installation prompted Matt to contact Brian Hemphill, Director of Operations at Clos du Bois, and sparked the field trials at Clos du Bois.
Brian had been skeptical at first that the EcoVolt would be able to handle the wastewater from their winery operations because of its high seasonal fluctuation in quantity and quality with varying levels of ph, but in the end “it made it through harvest without a hitch.”
The wastewater goes into an equalization tank before entering the anaerobic digester to homogenize ph from cleaning caustics and grape acids. Normally microorganisms prefer feed between 6.8 and 7.8 ph, but in the trials the EcoVolt consumed wastewater down to 6.5 ph without affecting their efficiency.
While anaerobic wastewater treatment has been done before, Matt explains that the EcoVolt system is different, more robust with brand new electrically charged bugs that produce a high quality gas in a system that’s easy to install and use for the winery or brewery.
What we have here is one of the most advanced water treatment systems ever developed. My goal is to help customers develop more sustainable practices and cut their costs. EcoVolt can be used as the core to enable that.”
The EcoVolt is designed to be easy for the winery or brewery to use without taking up much space or man power. It has a modular design, so in case of expansion additional treatment units can be integrated as needed, and the whole system is remotely monitored by Cambrian Innovations.
After the Clos du Bois trials, Brian was impressed not only by the performance of the sturdy microorganisms, but the economics of the EcoVolt. Calculations showed that the capital outlay for the system could be recovered in as little as 3 years with renewable energy rebates and savings. The system offset energy costs during peak hours by using the methane gas the microorganisms and wastewater treatment costs are significantly reduced.
“They have a cool system, and I wish we had one here,” says Brian. Currently the existing aeration pond system at Clos du Bois still has capacity. However, they may use the EcoVolt at other Constellation sites.
The EcoVolt system is already installed at Bear Republic and Lagunitas breweries, and Cambrian Innovation is in contact with several domestic wineries, as well as wineries in Europe and Australia. Matt says, “Wineries and breweries have been underserved in advanced technology,” and he wants to change that. “Let’s make this simple to use. We drop off a flatbed trailer, the process begins, it will pump out clean water, and we’ll remotely monitor it.”
By Kim Badenfort