Powering Coastal Wastewater Treatment with Plastic Waste
Transforming our oceans and the wastewater sector with a cradle-to-cradle solution for plastic waste. Pristine waterways. Resilient communities.
GWG will use an innovative, cradle-to-cradle solution to enhance sustainability and address three key challenges in coastal communities. The three problems our solution will solve are: 1) Existing ocean plastics pollution; 2) Need for clean, reliable energy in the wastewater sector; and 3) More resilient coastal communities.
GWG is committed to these problems, as they are essential for ocean planetary health and resilience in coastal communities throughout the world. Each year, about 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are deposited in our oceans, polluting water and threatening marine life. Current collection efforts and cost-effective recycling are not enough. Most plastic produced is single-use; less than ⅓ of this ends up getting recycled. Meanwhile, demands for wastewater services, coupled with more stringent discharge standards, increase energy needs at treatment plants. Energy often represents ⅓ of a utility’s operating costs; wastewater plants are often a city’s largest energy consumer. When storm surges knock out the centralized power grid, utilities cannot provide adequate wastewater/stormwater services. This is a particular threat for the nearly 50% of the world’s population that lives along coastlines.
GWG’s solution is to build a streamlined approach for collecting plastic waste along coastlines and in the oceans, transporting it to nearby wastewater treatment plants, and turning it into onsite energy for the facility. The process will use established gasification technology to blend ocean plastic waste with biosolids, producing synthetic gas during wastewater treatment. The gas will be treated and used to generate energy, which facilities can use onsite for electricity, heat, or both. This will decrease the reliance of coastal wastewater treatment plants on centralized energy grids. By increasing resilience in this way, plants will be able to more quickly recover from outages during storms to provide essential services with minimal disruptions.
To accomplish this, GWG will coordinate relevant community groups, wastewater treatment plants, and technology providers to bring the elements of this process together. For the Phase I and II pilots of this solution, GWG has already established such local partners in Honolulu, HI.
This solution will change the world by bringing together new partners to simultaneously transform our wastewater/stormwater operations, our oceans, and the power sector. It will provide an effective end-use for existing plastic waste, while increasing resilience and generating alternative, more environmentally friendly sources of energy. Once scaled, it will reduce operating costs for wastewater utilities; such savings may be re-directed towards much needed infrastructure upgrades and future-proofing critical assets for the inevitable storms that lie ahead.
Watch our elevator pitch:
The dimensions of the Challenge our solution addresses:
Our solution's stage of development:
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Rockville, MD, USA
What makes our solution innovative:
The GWG solution takes existing gasification technology and advances its use by blending new feedstocks in wastewater treatment processes. Gasification technology in wastewater treatment already exists and the specific synthetic gasification process GWG will use has been implemented at full scale in India. GWG’s new application of this technology, using plastic waste as a feedstock, and streamlined waste management process, will result in innovative solution and partnership that meets multiple resilience objectives. This will have a positive impact for local communities and their broader impact on global sustainability.
How technology is integral to our solution:
The advancement of existing gasification technology for new applications is one of the key elements of the GWG solution. Wastewater utilities are continually looking for ways to improve operations and services, as well as reduce costs. Innovations in technology can help them do this, however, traditionally, the sector has been risk-averse due to the necessity to ensure public health and environmental outcomes at all times. Using proven technology, GWG’s pilots will demonstrate new applications and reduce risk for future installations. Furthermore, by using technology in this way, GWG will bridge together sectors and new partners to address multiple challenges.
Our solution goals over the next 12 months:
GWG’s goals for the next 12 months include:
Secure funding to build and test the GWG solution;
Conduct Phase I pilot demonstration for 3 months at a private facility in Honolulu with existing partners;
Collect and analyze data, then refine the process;
Kick-off a Phase II pilot demonstration to run 9 months at a public facility in Honolulu; and
Build an inventory of potential gasification technology providers, locations, costs, and candidate wastewater treatment facilities in coastal areas for future full-scale implementation.
Our vision over the next three to five years to grow and scale our solution to affect the lives of more people:
GWG’s vision is to clean up our oceans and increase resilience for the 40% of the world’s populations that live coastal communities. Over the next three to five years, we plan to move from pilot demonstrations to full-scale implementation of our solution in a diverse group of wastewater treatment plants. The solution will directly impact those being served by coastal wastewater facilities. However, other positive impacts will be more indirect and reach a broader number of people, such as reducing carbon emissions and consumption of fossil fuels, providing effective waste management, and helping keep our oceans and fish populations healthy.
The key characteristics of the populations who will benefit from our solution in the next 12 months:
The regions where we will be operating in the next 12 months:
How we will reach and retain our customers or beneficiaries:
Main customers include wastewater treatment plants. GWG staff with over 5 years experience working in the wastewater sector have a strong network of contacts. The team is building out this network through a Technical Advisory Committee comprised of industry professionals who have worked in the field for 20+ years. GWG will work with each wastewater utility, customize the technology for the treatment plant, build a relationship with the provider, and conduct outreach with local community organizations to develop a plastic collection and transport process. Data from the pilots will help refine the process and install this solution at other locations.
How many people we are currently serving with our solution:
The specific solution has not been piloted. However, the potential population that could be served is over a million people. This estimate is the number of people served by the City of Honolulu wastewater treatment plants.
How many people we will be serving with our solution in the 12 months and the next 3 years:
We plan to serve the population of Honolulu, Hawaii by implementing the pilot. Our partner, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, has collected 161 tons of plastics to date with the help of 19,000+ volunteers. By carrying out the pilot in Hawaii for three months, we will clean 100 tons of plastic and generate the required feedstock for the pilot. With a full-scale installation at City of Honolulu, we will be serving over one million people, which is the number that the City serves with their wastewater system.
How our solution team is organized:
How many people work on our solution team:
How many years we have been working on our solution:
The skills our solution team has that will enable us to attract the different resources needed to succeed and make an impact:
Fidan Karimova has worked in 85+ countries to grow startups from ideas to companies. She manages overall GWG operations and resources. Grace Richardson is a professional engineer with 7+ years experience in implementing technologies in wastewater utilities. She oversees the GWG scientific and technical development operations. Katy Lackey has 9+ years of experience in research, community advocacy, program development. She manages GWG's community involvement and draft reports. Anjali Gupta works at one of the most advanced treatment plants in the country and oversees GWG project applications. Livia Ehardt has 7+ years of experience working in accounting and coordinates GWG finances.
Our revenue model:
GWG has a transactional revenue model to support the company’s long-term mission. The wastewater treatment plants are the end-users and the main source of revenue. In order to ensure constant flow of funding from the end users, the company highlights multiple potential returns for the wastewater treatment plants from the provided services.
Cost Savings: The use of the biosolids as an energy source will reduce the plant’s need for other expensive sources of electricity.
Revenue Generation: Using plastics, in conjunction with surplus biosolids, will allow the plant the ability to sell excess energy to local gas utilities.
The cost savings and revenue generating capabilities provided by this solution will have a significant positive impact on the water industry.
Why we are applying to Solve:
GWG is applying to Solve because of its history in helping startups advance their ideas. We believe Solve can help advance our work through the provision of pilot funding and organizational mentorship.
The key barriers for our solution:
Currently the biggest barrier is getting the funding to pilot the gasification technology with the plastic and biosolids feedstock. Solve could help get the word out about the proposed solution to interested parties that could help with a faster adoption. In addition, it would be helpful to get a business mentor to advise on the GWG business case. Ramboll, an engineering company based in Denmark, has been advising us on our business case to date and their feedback has been very useful in strengthening the solution pitch.
The types of connections and partnerships we would be most interested in if we became Solvers:
- Fidan Karimova CEO, Global Water Girls, LLC