India, the second-most populous nation on earth, only holds a tiny 4% of the world’s freshwater.
For Forward Water Technologies CEO Howie Honeyman, that’s a recipe for trouble -- for the country’s government, local communities, and businesses -- as demand for more and more water will only increase in the face of dwindling supplies.
But Honeyman's company has developed a possible solution not only for India but also for commercial enterprises facing similar water-scarcity issues across the world.
The remedy: recycle wastewater into clean water for reuse, perpetually.
“India is already seeing this massive scale of water shortages and that could evolve to being here in North America. But I want to be a part of the solution that stops it from progressing and even reverses it,” said Honeyman, whose company recently signed its first technology license transfer contract with an India-based engineering services firm.
“In India, that recycled water is actually a valuable chemical product. You can sell the recycled water because a lot of the businesses are not allowed to take the water out of the municipal system.”
India aside, Ontario-based Forward Water has been ramping up the commercialization of its proprietary forward osmosis technology that allows manufacturers to clean their wastewater and reclaim up to 90% of the waste as clean water without burning up too much energy.
The technology is a simple three-step process. Freshwater is reclaimed by extracting it through a membrane that has a highly concentrated draw salt solution on one side. Once that is complete the draw salt is removed from the extracted water by removing its two components -- CO2 and another volatile compound. Then those compounds are captured, re-concentrated, and returned back to the forward osmosis unit for complete reagent recycling in a closed-loop process.
Technology geared toward multiple industries
The company’s technology, birthed by GreenCentre Canada and rooted on a platform technology discovered at Queen’s University, was designed originally for the fracking industry to treat oil and gas wastewater from oil sands mining and refinery-based processes. As part of a pilot project, the company processed successfully up to 15,000 liters a day.
“We were able to show the technology can, in fact, be physically scaled. And now we're in the process of bringing that into full commercialization,” Honeyman said.
However, Forward Water found penetrating the unstable, energy-price-dependent fracking industry difficult and then decided to pursue a wide range of established industries open to its technology.
“We realized that the technology had broader application and specifically into the wastewater streams from what we call industrial manufacturing,” he said. “This could be chemical production, pharmaceutical production, even food and beverage processing, electrochemical and semiconductors, and textiles. Those industries are a little easier for us to approach, more stable in terms of their ongoing needs and maintaining their own business profiles, which allows us to continue operating with them.”
Honeyman singled out two industries that could benefit significantly from its technology -- lithium mining (for batteries) and food processing (making concentrates.)
“It turns out most lithium is found not by mining in hard rock, but by actually extracting naturally occurring salty solutions or brines underneath the earth's surface and extracting the lithium out of those salty solutions,” he said, pointing out that the company can pull both clean water and the lithium itself from the waste stream.
With food processing, Honeyman said Forward Water has plans “to concentrate food products without destroying their flavoring profiles” while helping manufacturers reduce their shipping costs.
“We're really taking the basic technology that we have on the table today and repurposing it for completely different sectors. And that's part of our growth pathway,” he added.
Honeyman noted that the technology’s potentially broad usage among many industries is underscored by a concept of what he calls a “dry factory” in which a manufacturer draws water only once from a municipal supply and that water remains fixed in a closed-loop operation.
“When you want to manufacture an item, you build a factory to make that item and you buy all sorts of infrastructure that you use over and over again,” he explained. “And one of those pieces of infrastructure, a very simple example, is a staircase that you put in your factory. You never have to replace that staircase. But what if you could do that with water as well?”
He added: “You can go on every day manufacturing your target item, reusing the same batch of water that you originally took when you built your factory, and you simply use it over and over and over again. So that factory never has to consume water beyond the initial dose or allotment that it was given when it was constructed.”
In turn, such dry factories not only save water but also take immense pressure off municipal water suppliers that must strike a balance between the competing needs of businesses and residents who need the water for everyday consumption and washing. In fact, he said it's not uncommon for manufacturers to cut back on production (and revenue), creating costly bottlenecks, when municipalities curtail or ration their water usage.
As the company advances its technology and prepares for commercialization, Forward Water has been laying the groundwork to go public on the TSX Venture Exchange. The new company hopes to start trading in late August or early September 2021 with Honeyman remaining at the helm as CEO.
An agreement with shell company Hope Well Capital Corp will take Forward Water public by way of a reverse takeover. The transaction is structured as a three-cornered amalgamation that will see the resulting company operate as Forward Water Technologies Corp.
Concurrent with the merger, Forward Water recently raised $6.5 million in financing, not to mention that it can (and will) engage the Canadian government for funding as well.
“We're targeting within the next 12 to 16 months on a month-to-month basis being cash positive,” Honeyman said. “So that's our goal. We know how we need to get there. We've got the roadmap. We just need to execute on that roadmap.”
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