Excitement is growing as Rosebud is gearing up for its first look at the long-awaited wastewater treatment plant during its official pilot launch in two weeks time. The innovative wastewater treatment system, which has now been in operation for a few weeks, uses algae to remove contaminants from liquid waste, producing clean water and a valuable, marketable biomass. “(Facility tours) will give people the opportunity to actually see how the process works, by actually going in and having a look at what the cultivation system looks like, and how the effluent water gets drawn in and how the discharge water, clear water, goes out, and what the biomass looks like,” said Elizabeth Huculak, vice president of products and operations at Symbiotic Envirotek, the company that developed the algae-based technology.
Turning waste into asset, the system produces both economic and environmental benefits. “This algae is growing on the waste that we’re creating in our communities, and creating product from the carbon dioxide that’s not good for our environment,” Huculak said. “So it’s kind of a win on a number of fronts.” The resulting biomass, harvestable every four days, “will be sold for use in a large variety of valuable bio-products, such as lubricants, drilling fluids, hydraulic fluid, plastics, jet fuels and other specialty chemicals, offsetting operating costs and reducing infrastructure costs for the municipality,” said a prepared statement from Symbiotic. This mode of processing also reduces the environmental damage caused by the nitrogen and phosphorus discharge of more traditional wastewater systems, the statement said. “Symbiotic’s a great example that taking care of the environment is also good for business,” said Huculak. “And algae is one of these operations where it’s a form of carbon sequestration.” But she emphasizes that Symbiotic didn’t do it alone. “The pilot and the grand opening will show that you need good partnerships to make innovation happen,” she said. “We’ve had some great partners.” Bow Ridge Fabrication, BRT Consulting and JMP Engineering were some key partners. The Industrial Research Adaptation Program (IRAP), under the National Research Council, provided research and development funding. Federal funding was also allocated by Federation of Canadian Municipalities through the Green Municipal Fund. The Alberta government, particularly through Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, also provided valuable support. Partnerships closer to home, in Wheatland County and Rosebud itself, have also been essential, Huculak said. “I just never cease to be amazed at the resiliency and creativity of Rosebud,” she said. “These people are very committed to their community and it makes it great for a company like Symbiotic to have partners like that. The success is really about the partnership.” Huculak is confident the project will extend beyond the pilot phase. “At the conclusion of the six-month pilot, we expect to be able to have this as an approvable system for all communities,” she said. “So it’s a significant undertaking. It’s not much of a risk for us because we have actually run the wastewater treatment system (off-site), using the Rosebud wastewater in 2015 and 2016. But AEP (Alberta Environment and Parks) wanted to have this pilot actually on site, properly configured to demonstrate its robustness.” “So, by the end of June, we will have all of the data that’s necessary to prove its efficacy. We will then actually make a formal application for approval for a full-sized wastewater treatment system to be implemented.” And Rosebud’s wastewater treatment is only the beginning. “At least two or three other communities in Alberta are waiting patiently to see the results (of this pilot),” Huculak said.