Frontier Environmental Technology – Rolla
Dr. Jianmin Wang, associate professor of environmental engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology (MS&T), had a dream.
Wang dreamed of providing affordable wastewater treatment to communities all over the world to increase hygiene and sanitation and lower death rates, particularly in small children.
Here in the U.S. the situation is less dramatic, but many cities and towns struggle with the cost and nutrient removal issues associated with wastewater treatment.
Wang and his team at Frontier Environmental Technology, LLC, of which Wang is co-owner, provide levels of advanced water treatment, particularly nutrient removal, at a fraction of the ongoing cost of comparable technologies with what’s called a Baffled Bioreactor (BBR).
The BBR improves on conventional wastewater treatment by using baffles to create a flow pattern within a reactor that promotes biomass retention. This greatly increases treatment efficiency and results in much cleaner wastewater. What’s more, it eliminates the need for other equipment and, since it has no moving parts, has no maintenance needs — ultimately reducing operational costs for the plant.
Best of all, this technology is fully scalable, making it equally useful for both Army units around the world and communities here at home. The installation and operational cost of a BBR is also low compared to conventional treatment facilities, with yet another benefit: the technology can be applied to new plants and retrofits.
Wang knew of the MO SBTDC at MS&T and wondered if the staff there could help.
They could and did, with a series of business decisions beginning in 2009, such as structuring the firm to compete successfully in federal, state and local government contracting with the help of the MO SBTDC’s sister program — the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (MO PTAC). PTAC helped Frontier navigate the federal government’s central contractor maze.
Tim Canter, Frontier research engineer and director of marketing, says a MO SBTDC team at MS&T composed of Keith Strassner, director; John Woodson and Robbie Davis, business development counselors; and others also helped the firm prepare applications for funding through the Small Business Innovation Research program to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
So successful was the team that the BBR has reaped more than $600,000 in grants thus far and has caught the attention of the Army, Navy and several Missouri towns. Frontier’s work also caught the eye of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided seed funding through their Grand Challenges Explorations program to allow Frontier to develop a self-mixing biogas generator that has the potential to provide pathogen-free water along with a source of fuel to people in developing countries.
Wang, Canter and their research associates, one of whom Canter says will likely be hired full-time shortly, have further refined BBR technology by adding proprietary surge pump and mixing technology to remove up to 90 percent of total nitrogen in wastewater, a process which they call Alternating Baffled Bioreactor or aBBR.
aBBR treated wastewater exceeds current EPA standards and even the most stringent Missouri standards. Their portable version of the BBR — the Deployable Baffled Bioreactor, or dBBR — also holds enormous promise for troops abroad or communities struck by disasters.
Canter says Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulations and those of other states are tightening. “In five to seven years, I think Frontier will be right there for communities that need to meet new standards,” he says. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Canter adds, “It’s a win-win-win for us, the local community or military and the environment. We think the BBR just has a tremendous amount of potential, and the MO SBTDC is helping us reach that potential.”
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