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It’s been a long road but Australian-based water recycling company Aquacell is now installing its non-potable water treatment systems into major commercial buildings in the US, including the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. And that’s after installation of its “next generation” wastewater recycling plant at the Brickworks Shopping Centre in Melbourne.
Aquacell has been based in Sydney for 24 years, where it has designed and built its non-drinkable water recycling infrastructure. It’s now a 20-person operation, with another 10 employees based in the US.
It’s been eyeing off the US market for years, and several years ago entered into an agreement with a Kentucky based business, the Phoenix Process Equipment Company, to enter the US market. It spent more time laying groundwork in the US, including re-engineering the technology to meet US standards.
Much of the company’s reclaimed water products are now exported to the US, Aquacell founder and chief executive officer Colin Fisher told The Fifth Estate. He says the Australian-built recycled water treatment systems are now in buildings owned by some of North America’s biggest property companies.
Tech giants such as Salesforce, Facebook and Apple are also customers, with the Australian company providing the largest on-site water recycling system in a commercial building in the United States at Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, saving 115,000 litres of drinking water a day.
Fisher says that parts of the US, including drought-stricken California, share many of the same issues with water shortages as Australia. Although the US initially looked to Australia for the know-how to solve its water woes, the US has since surpassed Australia on requirements and frameworks to put these ideas into practice.
In San Francisco, for example, it’s mandatory for new development projects over 250,000 square feet of gross floor area to install and operate an onsite non-potable water system.
As a result, Fisher now finds it much easier and quicker to get a new water recycling system approved in the US than in Australia.
Australia isn’t having the right conversation on reclaimed water
Australia produced some good policies and activity on water conservation and recycling during the Millennial drought “but when it started raining, the policies fell away”.
He says another part of the problem is that the conversation too often focuses on recycled water for drinking, which is an important discussion to have but also stymies talk about the advantages of non-potable recycled water.
Fisher says that the financial case for non-potable water recycling stacks up at the right scale, with the precinct the “sweet spot” where the “savings really start to kick in”
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Australian-first water systems for Burwood Brickworks shopping centre
The company has put water recycling systems into many high rise buildings in Australia, including a black water system in 1 Bligh Street, Sydney´s first high rise six-star Green Star office building, which has been in continuous service since the building began operation in 2012 – reducing potable water consumption in the building by over 50 per cent. As a general rule, the company focuses on small to medium scale non-drinkable water systems that can be retrofitted into existing structures or built into new developments.
Most recently, the company has installed the water systems for Frasers Property’s Burwood Brickworks shopping centre in Melbourne, which is aiming to become the first Living Building Challenge compliant retail precinct in the world.
The “next generation” wastewater treatment plant includes the first membrane aerated bioreactor (MABR) in Australia, which mimics passive wastewater purification mechanisms seen in nature. The entire system is designed to use minimal chemicals in adherence to Living Building Challenge standards.
All blackwater and stormwater collected on the site moves through the treatment system, and is then recirculated to flush toilets, cool towers and irrigate urban farms. It’s capable of treating and recycling 60,000 litres of blackwater and stormwater a day.