SME Spotlight

Firm gains edge with in-house system

Trident Water Systems founder Theron Madhavan with the Electro Contaminant Removal system, a key technology the water-treatment company has developed in-house, which allows it to remain competitive.
Trident Water Systems founder Theron Madhavan with the Electro Contaminant Removal system, a key technology the water-treatment company has developed in-house, which allows it to remain competitive.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Innovative technology drives competitiveness everywhere - even in the effluent treatment industry. In the second of a four-part series focusing on environmental services firms, Trident Water Systems founder Theron Madhavan speaks to Samuel Chan on the firm's home-grown water-treatment technology and its plans for the future.

Q What is Trident Water Systems?

A Trident Water Systems is a water-treatment firm specialising in handling industrial waste water.

The company, which started on March 1, is actually a spin-off from a previous water-treatment company called Flagship Ecosystems, which I founded in 2006. The shareholders had differing ideas on how they wanted to move ahead then, so I decided to do a management buyout and run the company on my own.

We have an Indonesian subsidiary under Trident Water Systems which does the same things as the Singapore business but is run separately. We place contracts in Indonesia under that and contracts outside Indonesia under our Singaporean entity to make it easier for coordination. We have about 20 staff in Indonesia and three here.

One key technology that we have developed in-house is the Electro Contaminant Removal system, which is being used as the primary treatment process for a lot of the industrial applications.

Q What services does Trident Water Systems provide?

A Our company does mainly three things. We can sell our equipment and systems, or even build entire treatment plants for our customers.

FINDING THAT SWEET SPOT

We are able to offer a solution with prices similar to those of our Asian competitors but with performances comparable with those of our US and European rivals.

Our solution is cheaper because our main costs are those of power and the replacement of our metallic blades.

TRIDENT WATER SYSTEMS FOUNDER THERON MADHAVAN

We also do service contracts, where we follow our customers on-site to treat waste water from their operations. This is mainly for the oil and gas industry, where we follow the oil rigs out.

What we have not actually done yet is the building of long-term treatment facilities.

These are termed build-own- operate facilities which are usually built in industrial parks or clusters as a central treatment plant. While such projects can provide a long- term recurring income stream along with government concessions, we have to come up with our own capital to take on such projects so there are many considerations.

Q How does your Electro Contaminant Removal system work?

A The system involves the passing of electricity, or direct current, through a series of metal blades. The water that is to be treated is then sent through these blades. As that happens, the metal blades will start releasing positively charged metallic ions.

Since most contaminants are negatively charged, these ions will coagulate onto the metallic ions and the resultant product, what we call sludge, falls out. This way, we create a coagulation effect.

That is the main process of treatment but there are other intermediary processes such as electrolysis and electron flooding.

Our system is unique because the direction of the current can be set to change automatically at a specific interval.

This prevents the excessive build-up of products on only one side of the blade, which affects efficiency, and the bending of the metallic blades, which occurs after a prolonged period in which electricity has been flowing in only one direction.

Q How does this home-grown technology allow you to remain competitive?

A Similar systems in the United States and Europe are too expensive for customers in our region while systems from India and China have not been performing as well.

We are able to offer a solution with prices similar to those of our Asian competitors but with performances comparable with those of our US and European rivals.

Our solution is cheaper because our main costs are those of power and the replacement of our metallic blades.

By being efficient in the use of power, we are easily 30 to 40 per cent cheaper than chemical solutions as chemical costs are high.

Also, the sludge our system creates is minimal and is chemically stable. This means that companies can simply bury it instead of taking it to a facility and spending on transport and disposal, as is the case with chemical sludge.

Our system is also preferred over biological solutions since those tend to take up a lot of space.

Q What plans does Trident Water Systems have for the future?

A We plan to develop our technology further. We are working with a Korean partner who owns technology which complements ours.

Their technology is an advanced oxidation process, which uses OH radicals - the most powerful compound for oxidation - instead of traditional oxidants such as ozone.

Our Electro Contaminant Removal system can already remove a large amount of contaminants by itself but for the water produced by more difficult industries such as palm-oil mills, combining our technologies makes for a more robust solution.

With many new contracts coming in, we plan to double our engineering team in the next two years.

Although we want to expand to other countries as well as to customers in other industries, we don't want to rush things. We want to make sure we are ready in terms of our resources and our technology.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2017, with the headline 'Firm gains edge with in-house system'. Print Edition | Subscribe