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SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Janicki Bioenergy isn’t taking orders yet, but is already flooded with requests for the company’s new Omniprocessor.

Sewage goes in. Power, clean drinking water and a bit of ash come out. The owner of each is paid for what’s coming and going.

“We have had hundreds of requests from around the world, people are asking for these machines. They’re asking, pleading with us to put these machines in their area first,” said company co-founder Peter Janicki.

Developed in a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project’s main goal was to destroy disease-causing sewage sludge in a sustainable manner. The machine is designed to do that and much more.

A production model in development is expected to produce 22,718 gallons of clean drinking water per day and enough electricity to provide 10 watts of reliable electricity to roughly 22,000 people. That’s enough to turn on a light or charge a cell phone.

“The No. 1 goal is to get rid of the sludge. And to get rid of sludge in a way that can grow, without just donations. It can grow on its own. The water was simply a mechanism to do that,” Janicki said. “The goal was not to make water. We just had to make water and sell water in order to make enough revenue to make the machine economically viable. In many places, electricity and sludge generate enough revenue to make it work. Water is a bonus.”

Janicki has big expectations for his machine and the new Skagit County company that will design, build and support them.

“The whole design has to be set up so that we can manufacture these things, not custom, but hundreds or thousands of these machines, more like an automotive factory than anything else,” Janicki said.

Janicki said there’s good reason to believe the Omniprocessor will be successful.

Initially expected to sell for roughly $2 million, the first production model will be inexpensive for a sewage treatment plant, let alone a water purification system and power plant.

It’s small. A working test model is 26 feet wide by 75 feet long, while a higher-capacity production model will measure 36 feet by 65 feet. And those who buy an Omniprocessor should have it paid off and making profits within the first five years of ownership, Janicki said.

“Whoever buys these machines is going to make a lot of money in these countries. They’re going to be very wealthy. And that’s one of the goals. That will allow us to produce more machines, which make more water and destroy more pathogens and provide a cleaner environment,” Janicki said.

The working prototype ships out in February to Dakar, Senegal, in West Africa, to begin a long-term test.

Janicki said he plans to start taking orders for Omniprocessors this summer.

The problems

According to the World Health Organization, more than a third of the world’s population, an estimated 2.5 billion people, live without access to improved sanitation facilities.

Water contaminated with human feces, including from sewage, septic tanks and open latrines, is a major cause of illness. Diarrhea is the second-leading cause of death worldwide for children under 5 years old, claiming around 780,000 lives per year, according to the WHO.

A lack of clean drinking water is another major and interconnected problem.

Some 748 million people lack access to improved drinking water, and an estimated 1.8 billion people use a water source contaminated by feces, according to the WHO.

Fadel Fell, an engineer who works for a government sewage division in Senegal, came to Sedro-Woolley to learn from Janicki employees how to assemble and operate the Omniprocessor when it arrives in his country.

Fell said proper sewage disposal is not available for all Dakar residents. The city’s processing plants are built to handle only 600 cubic meters of the 800 cubic meters of sewage produced every day. The deficiency is beyond the Omniprocessor prototype’s capacity of 12.3 cubic meters per day, as listed on janickibioenergy.com, though the next-generation model in development is expected to handle 92.3 cubic meters per day.

“Sewage (processing) is not available for all families. They have latrine pits. People … take from that latrine and dump it somewhere,” Fell said.

Some dump the contents in open areas, Fell said. Others pile them in deeper pits that can reach down 20 to 30 feet and contaminate other water sources.

“You have medical issues. You have sanitation problems,” he said.

Senegal also faces a shortage of potable water and reliable electricity, Fell said, noting the lone supply of drinking water is a pipeline that went out of service for a short time last year.

Janicki said he traveled with Gates Foundation personnel to South Africa, Kenya, parts of West Africa and India — through some of the poorest places and through the biggest slums of the world.

He toured numerous sewage treatment plants that had been built by governments, only to be shut off due to the cost of ongoing operations. Although labor is less expensive in developing countries, the massive amounts of electricity needed to run the plants cost much more than it does in the U.S.

The Omniprocessor changes that.

“It’s so radically different. It makes money every day, instead of costing money every day. They’re not going to shut something off that’s making money. It kills 100 percent of pathogens and it creates profit,” Janicki said.

“We expect it to run every day, and they’re going to want more of them. Eventually there will be enough in a community they’re going to run out of sewage sludge.”

A new approach

Janicki started the machine’s design process by considering what it needed to run long-term: enough energy to power itself.

“I knew that we couldn’t afford to buy gas or diesel or electricity to run this processor. It was just never going to work. We had to get enough energy out of the sewage sludge to run this processor,” Janicki said. “So I began, you know, working the math and the thermodynamics to understand if it was mathematically possible to get that much energy out of sewer sludge. And, surprisingly enough, it was.”

Over the last two years the project has been in development, Janicki said he and his team encountered a number of challenges.

The first were fundamental.

Sewage processing plants, power plants and water purification systems become more efficient and more cost-effective in larger scales, said Janicki Bioenergy engineer John Weller.

“The biggest challenges all revolve in making the thing inexpensive and scaling it down. Power generation and everything else, they get better when they’re bigger,” Weller said.

“The real challenge is shrinking the footprint, while at the same time, minimizing the cost. Each one of the components on the machines, you could go out and buy in industry today, and each one would be millions of dollars. Just bolting them together would be four to five times as much (money). No one in the developing world would be able to afford it.”

Although none of the concepts of the Omniprocessor are brand new, they work together in a way that makes it smaller and more efficient than other plants. But it also needed to be produced economically.

“This has to be an affordable solution. It has to be designed for developing countries. It has to be something that could be operated in Central Africa,” Janicki said.

While proficient in software development, electrical systems and electronic controls, the design and development team had a lot to learn.

“Me and my team were not experts at making steam; we were not experts at fluidized sand combustion. There were a lot of things in the pressure code book by the state of Washington that we didn’t quite understand, and we had to get certified to make pressure vessels,” Janicki said. “There was a lot of new technology that we weren’t familiar with, and that took us some time for our team to learn how to design and build this equipment.”

Janicki said the team’s first foray into engine building started by designing a powerful steam engine from scratch.

“We had not developed engines before, and there was nobody that could really help us too much on the development of a new steam engine. That’s taken a tremendous amount of engineering effort, to make a reliable steam engine that can produce the kind of power that we want,” Janicki said.

With the help of modern tools for design, manufacturing and analysis, the team produced a working test model.

Global connections

Beside that test model at Janicki Industries’ Sedro-Woolley manufacturing plant is a portable office.

Inside, Omniprocessor cell manager Jim Armstrong can start up the machine with a click of his mouse. He and a few co-workers can control the machine and keep a close eye on vital signs like temperatures, feed rates and efficiency readings, along with live video streams of the plant at work.

Thanks to the Internet, local staff can keep monitoring the Omniprocessor when it moves to Senegal, as well as send it software upgrades to fix bugs and improve efficiency.

Janicki said the control center for all the plants will be run in Sedro-Woolley.

“Now we can control, upgrade and operate them from Skagit County. This is one of the wonderful things about 2015,” Weller said. “The Internet is in many, many places. The (clients) won’t need a team of highly qualified engineers to run the plant.”

Growth potential

Janicki’s hopes are high that the Omniprocessor project takes off and brings the Skagit workforce with it.

“It’s going to employ a lot of people locally, in manufacturing and high-tech research and development. I’m very optimistic for what its future is going to be and possibilities for people in Skagit County to be part of something that changes the world,” Janicki said.

He said he is working out an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on where the machines can and should be sold, and for how much.

“They clearly want to ensure their charitable objectives are met. Their objectives are to help people in the developing world. They have a list of countries that meet that criteria,” Janicki said. “… My objective and their objective is the same. There’s no disagreement here.”

The machines may eventually be sold to richer nations, but possibly at a higher price, Janicki said.

Building more machines would make each individual unit less expensive to produce and would progress development, potentially offering a better value to more needy countries and cities, Janicki said.

Weller said processors could be a boon to any island community, where drinking water is scarce in the summer and sewage is often dumped into the ocean.

Debbie Allen, wastewater treatment plant manager for Sedro-Woolley, said the city shipped 153 dry tons of biosolids, waste products after sewage was treated, over the Cascade Mountains in 2013 to be used as fertilizer in Eastern Washington.

She said the Omniprocessor could have a future in the United States, as well.

“I think it’s a fantastic machine. … I think down the road it will become a viable machine, to a certain extent, to dispose of biosolids,” she said.

Janicki and his engineers say the machine meets all U.S. federal emissions guidelines. The project received a permit to construct from the Northwest Clean Air Agency, said spokeswoman Katie Skipper.

The permit gives Janicki Bioenergy the opportunity to run and test the machine for 180 operation days, but Skipper said the company has not applied for a source test, which would allow longer-term operations.

People involved in the project get visibly excited about its potential to change lives.

“I do believe it will solve actual issues,” Fell said of the processor. “It is new technology we are using. We may have to install many more in Senegal, in West Africa, and other places. For an engineer, for a technician, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You can give feedback to the guys who discovered it.”

Janicki said his son Aaron will be among the team of Janicki employees heading to Dakar to set up the test processor, which is expected to start operation in May.

“I think many, many people really want to do something that impacts the world in a very positive way,” Janicki said.

“To get an opportunity like this is incredible. I think not only have we been given the opportunity, I think we have a very high probability of being successful. If we are successful, we will change the lives of billions of people. How can that not be just ultimately gratifying?”

— Reporter Mark Stayton: 360-416-2112, mstayton@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Mark_SVH, Facebook.com/byMarkStayton

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