Canadian innovation recovers and recycles energy from wastewater

Canadian innovation recovers and recycles energy from wastewater

Lynn Mueller is the CEO of SHARC Energy Systems, based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Lynn is a recipient of Clean50 Lifetime Achievement Awards and has been perfecting the science of wastewater energy recovery for over a decade. SHARC and its wastewater recovery technology is a multi-award-winning success, but Lynn is doing it for his family. He has four children and three granddaughters, Lynn’s personal mission is, “Do all he can to make the world more livable for them and others.”

Can you please describe what inspired you to develop Wastewater Energy Transfer technology?

Not many people realize that wastewater just like solar, wind or hydro is a significant source of renewable energy. In fact, it is one of the most reliable renewable energy sources because unlike wind and solar, which are dependent on weather conditions, wastewater is everywhere, ready to be used at any time, in any climate. 

The idea of developing a Wastewater Energy Transfer (WET) system occurred to me when I realized in my own home, we were using approx. $1200 worth of natural gas for heating hot water, and then we are throwing it down the drain along with all the energy in it, that is only one home. Worldwide, trillion dollars worth of clean energy in form of wastewater flowing 6 feet beneath the earth’s surface is being thrown away. This inspired me to come out of retirement to try to develop the technology to recover heat from wastewater that actually works. 

Today we are one of the very few companies that have the technology to access the untapped billions of dollars clean energy industry. In fact, I can confidently say we have the best technology and are the leader in the WET industry because we have been perfecting the science of wastewater energy recovery for over a decade.

The energy we are discarding also has a major environmental impact, it is causing ocean temperature to rise leading to more intense hurricanes, heavier rainfall, and snowstorms. I experienced climate change first during my travels to the far north installing refrigeration systems for the Hudson Bay Company. Before founding SHARC, I had 25+ years of career in the green energy business and geothermal heat pump industry and I wanted to use my knowledge and expertise to find a solution to help fight climate change and do what I can to make the world more livable for my family and others.

How does the incredible technology developed by SHARC Energy work? 

The WET system we have developed is very simple. Wastewater, which consists of what gets flushed down toilets but is mixed with millions of litres of hot water from showers, dishwashers, washing machines, and more, maintains a constant temperature as it travels through sewers to the treatment plant—typically about 17.6° C, though this varies by geography and season

In a WET system, a heat pump is used to capture the warmth of wastewater and transfer it to the clean water stream that is entering homes and businesses. It all operates as a closed-loop system, meaning that the dirty water never touches the clean water. But the warmth of the sewage water helps heat the water that is then used in showers, washing machines, dishwashers, or even in radiators to help heat buildings. In the summer, buildings with sewage heat recovery systems can reverse their heat pumps and use the sewage to dissipate excess building heat and reduce a building’s air-conditioning costs.

What are the benefits of this technology? And how it can contribute to meeting Canada’s target of Net Zero emissions by 2050?

Recovering and reusing the energy from wastewater we are throwing away every day can significantly reduce the energy demand, energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Recovering energy rather than trying to create new heat is also four times more efficient and enables property owners and housing cooperatives to reduce their costs of conventional utility services and can entitle them to government-funded, carbon offset programs. Every dollar of energy used to operate our system generates four dollars of output.

To achieve Canada’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050, we will have to generate approximately six times the amount of clean energy we are generating now to support the electrification of various sectors including buildings which are responsible for 17% of the annual carbon emissions and burning fossil fuels for space heating accounts for the largest share of these emissions. Our WET system has a proven record of reducing carbon emissions and is a sustainable option to replace the use of fossil fuels in buildings. By mandating the use of WET systems in buildings we could remove up to 54.7 million metric tonnes of Greenhouse gases annually which is equivalent to taking 18.6 million cars off the street. 

Despite having immense benefits, the WET industry has been relatively unknown, but the world has started to take notice and we are confident soon the WET systems will become a technology of choice for all buildings in the future.

What are the various projects in which the SHARC system has been installed/will be installed in the future? 

Recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of recycling thermal energy from wastewater, several residential complexes, hospitals, hotels, micro-breweries & distilleries, commercial laundry and community activity centers around the globe have shown tremendous interest in adopting our technology to meet their sustainability goals. Our WET system is actively being used or in process of being installed in close to 30 locations globally, supporting our customers to reduce costs, energy consumption & greenhouse gas emissions. Below are a few examples –

Using our PIRANHA Series, a medium size WET system, specifically designed to meet the requirements of standalone residential and commercial buildings – 

  • Seven35 building in North Vancouver reduced CO2 emissions to just 669 from 68,000 and its annual energy cost by $10,000+.
  • Lake Louise Inn, a hotel in Banff reduced its laundry water heating energy demand by as much as 45% and propane requirement by 32,000 litres per year. 
  • Sustainable Living Innovations, known for building some of the world’s most carbon-neutral residential buildings, selected SHARC’s systems for six new Projects in design or under construction in Seattle.

Our SHARC Series is an industrial-sized WET system designed for large capacity requirements of energy districts, large multifamily residential, and industrial applications. Some of our existing projects include – 

  • False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility in Vancouver uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide 70 percent of its space heating and hot water to over 6.4 million square feet of residential, commercial, and institutional space as of 2021. In accordance with the 2018 NEU expansion plan, the service area will increase to 22 million square feet.
  • National Western Center, an innovation 250-acer campus hub in Denver will source nearly 90 percent of its heating and cooling from a recycled source of thermal energy and prevent 2,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere each year.
  • King County in Washington (in Seattle few minutes from the Space Needle). The project will be taking advantage of the pioneering King County Wastewater Heat Recovery Pilot program which allows for private commercial property owners and developers to tap into the sewer line to create a low carbon and electrically efficient space heating, space cooling and hot water load for their buildings.

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