THE INITIATIVE — There is a huge need in the world for improved sanitation. It is such a basic thing and so crucial to health, yet the infrastructure required for industry-standard solutions proves respectably cost prohibitive for much of the world’s population. Even in developed countries, environmental and sustainability concerns are raising the bar for how we dispose of waste and preserve our natural resources. However, it is the preservation of human life that spurred the work that is being done in West Africa. For the past decade, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been facilitating relationships between public and private organizations in Senegal to support a political infrastructure and appetite to sustain the levels of sanitation that are required to dramatically reduce the number pathogen-induced illnesses. This forethought and preparation made Dakar the top pick for the first installation of a Janicki Omni Processor.
OUR CHALLENGES — Our first challenge was developing the technology behind Janicki’s Omni Processor. The primary goal of the Omni Processor is to render the material pathogen-free in order to stop the spread of disease in an economically sustainable way. Once we worked out the physics and figured in some logistics (it sounds easy, but the research and testing was quite extensive), we ended up with a somewhat sophisticated piece of equipment that definitely got more than a few folks wondering if it would be practical for its intended objectives on location. Since we want local entities to be able to own and operate our machines autonomously and economically, striking a balance between the required level of high-tech functionality and ease of use was imperative. Good news: We had already planned for this through highly automating the system itself. It turned out to be a success.
LESSONS LEARNED — After it’s commissioning at the Niayes site in Dakar in May of 2015, the pilot plant certainly didn’t waste any time in affording us many learning opportunities, just as we had expected and hoped for. After all, isn’t the main purpose of any pilot project to test and prove the concept in the field so that unforeseen conditions can play out and be learned from? For us, this has resulted in adjustments that have made the system more robust and well-suited to meet the demands of the application. This has involved component upgrades to protect against climate extremes, drying bed retrofits to improve the fuel supply quality, overcoming cultural, language and time zone barriers to effective team communication, and finding reliable local sourcing for routine maintenance items. These, and other things we are still learning, will be invaluable lessons as we look to scale to the global market.
SUCCESS STORY — Since arriving in Dakar, the OP has processed an estimated 700 tons of fecal sludge. When operated at capacity, it can now process fecal waste at a rate of approximately 4,000 tons per year which means it can treat the waste of 50,000-100,000 people from the adjacent community. We have also successfully generated clean drinking water onsite that our crew has been excited to try. In fact, they voluntarily drink the water on a regular basis as the practice has actually become quite popular. Because of the entrenched perceptions from previous technology solutions in the sanitation industry, our solution at first glance is sometimes reviewed with skepticism that it can actually generate excess electricity. However, our pilot has successfully proven that this can in fact done operating in a self-powered mode, and on top of that, it can assist in supplying the power needed to run the aeration tank at the co-located WWTP – and that it can be done in both developed and developing world contexts. The Senegalese operators and maintenance crew is trained and currently manages the day-to-day operations of the plant with our U.S. based team traveling to the site as necessary to support various upgrades, water testing, etc. This approach has worked well and there is a huge sense of accomplishment—it is a very exciting project to be a part of.
THE LONG TERM — With the longevity of the pilot plant estimated at 20-years or more, the operation of this unit on site will likely continue well into the future. Over the next couple of years, we hope to transition the plant to be more business and community focused, gradually shifting away from the rigorous field testing of the technology that we’ve been concentrated on. The goal is to have the unit fully managed by Senegal’s National Department of Sanitation (ONAS), and eventually working within a network of other locally owned and operated Omni Processors that would service the entire city of Dakar.