As President of Vancouver’s Boost Environmental Systems, Dr. Sergey Lobanov sees manure and sewage differently than most people. “It shouldn’t be considered as waste,” he argues. “It’s a significant resource.”
Boost’s novel waste processing technology is helping others see things his way. Housed within 20-foot, modular containers, the IMPACT system uses microwaves and hydrogen peroxide to sustainably treat on-farm manure, sewage sludge from municipal treatment plants and other organic waste.
The process effectively kills fecal coliforms and reduces the volume of waste by 50 per cent or more. It also recovers valuable nutrients that can be sold as phosphorus-rich fertilizer. In addition, the system can be combined with anaerobic digestion, providing pre-treatment that speeds up digestion and results in more valuable biogas production.
Although Boost officially launched in 2016, researchers at the University of British Columbia have been developing IMPACT since the early 2000s. Once the technology was ready to move from the lab to the marketplace, Lobanov and his colleagues negotiated an exclusive licensing agreement with UBC and started down the path to commercialization.
However, Lobanov quickly realized he’d need more than his expertise as a chemical engineer to succeed. “We’re researchers, so we don’t really have that much entrepreneurial experience,” he says.
For help, they turned to Bioenterprise. The agri-tech business accelerator covered the costs of a patent lawyer, reviewed the start-up’s financial projections and helped them develop a revenue model. Most importantly, they conducted a detailed market analysis across Canada and the U.S. to help Boost target their sales efforts.
“Organizations like Bioenterprise are very helpful,” says Lobanov. “They can basically provide all this information that you might be missing … and connect you with the right people.”
In March of 2017, Boost won $20,000 for developing B.C. tech to help solve a problem identified as part of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and the BC Innovation Council’s Innovation Challenge.
Today, Boost is working with early adopters to demonstrate and refine the technology, making it as user-friendly as possible. A pilot project funded by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture is currently underway at UBC’s Dairy Education Research Centre, while the BC Innovation Council provided funding to test IMPACT at the City of Abbotsford’s wastewater treatment centre.
Within five years, they aim to start making commercial sales, giving farmers and wastewater treatment facilities a better way to handle waste. “There’s so much that can be extracted and recovered and reused,” he says. “Eventually, you may end up with basically no residual waste at all… where everything is being used and there’s no harm to the environment.”