“When I first joined Höganäs, I didn’t even know that powdered metals existed,” admits Madan Tandukar, who along with Kyle Unger and Paul Endler developed the patented Cleanit EC technology. “Yet, we had to come up with various ways of utilising powdered metals for wastewater treatment.”
After numerous literature reviews and initial research and wider reading, Madan came across electrocoagulation – a concept he recalled from his studies but had not given much thought to since. “Electrocoagulation has been around for decades and its potential in terms of performance was very good,” recalls Madan. “But historically it has not very feasible economically for water treatment because of its high electricity consumption.”
Having by now become more familiar with Höganäs’ powders and production processes, Madan and his team came up with the idea of making the electrodes used in electrocoagulation out of metal powders instead of conventional sheet metals. “In the beginning I just packed loose powder into small plastic containers and used these containers as electrodes – just to prove the concept,” says Madan. “That became our prototype and it actually worked. So then we were able to take that to the Höganäs QC lab, where they were able to help us press some metal powders into electrode bars.”
Soon, pilots were being run in Brazil and the US, where initially the results were not as promising. However, by continuously refining the design and optimising the processes, the team of three was able to maintain the technology’s effectiveness at removing contaminates at high levels while reducing its energy consumption.
“Obviously we did not get there on day one,” says Kyle Unger. “Our first design consumed much more power than we wanted and was not very efficient. But over several trials we were able to design the cells in a way that we would operate and consume much less power.”
The new powdered-metal electrodes had other limitations too that the team needed to work around. For one, compared to conventional electrodes, they could not be manufactured in larger sizes. Their solution was to design a cell that could house multiple electrodes so that they could act as one and compensate for the size difference. This not only improved the durability of the electrodes but also offered ease of maintenance – two criteria which were vital to the technology’s feasibility.
“After achieving all the advantages of lower electricity consumption, we didn’t want to sacrifice those gains in other areas, such as increasing the costs of servicing and maintenance,” says Paul Endler. “For this reason, a lot of engineering from our side went into making sure our powdered metal electrodes had the same lifespan as conventional electrodes.”
An application for a patent was filed in 2013 and by 2015 a final product – under the trade name Cleanit EC – was ready for the market. The result was a product that could extract high concentrates of contaminates from wastewater far more efficiently than any other system on the market. On top of that, it was also more cost effective than competing products – both in terms of capital expenditure as well as lower operating costs.
“By coming up with new electrodes using metal powder, we were able to reintroduce electrocoagulation into the market,” says Madan. “But now the technology is more efficient, more cost-effective and more sustainable.”