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A New Kind of Treatment Plant
Source:Time:2015/1/26 16:28:03

Sedro-Woolley is an old logging andcoal-mining town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The populationstands at about 10,000, and Janicki is one of the more prominent names. PeterJanicki and other members of his extended family run Janicki Industries, whichwas founded in 1993. This month, his sister-in-law, Lisa Janicki, the company’s CFO, is running for county commissioner. As I drive out to the company’sheadquarters—just before Gates pays his visit—her campaign signs line thestreets.

 “Thereason I live here is because my dad lived here, and the reason my dad livedhere is because my grandfather homesteaded here,” Peter Janicki says.

Janicki Industries typically buildsmachine parts for aerospace, marine, space, and transportationoperations—customers include Lockheed, NASA and General Electric—and anothersubsidiary deals in logging. But lately Peter Janicki, the company’s CEO, hasapplied its resources in new ways. After more than two years of work, hiswater-treatment prototype is processing sewage in the middle of an open lot,behind the other Janicki buildings.

When I arrive, Janicki walks me out tothis rather compact contraption. It’s about the size of two school buses placedside by side. A steel blue staircase runs along one side, and a kind ofconveyor belt feeds raw sewage into a drum. The stench is noticeable, but notoverpowering. As we stroll around the outside, a pillar of white smoke spewsfrom the top of the plant, and eventually, we reach the pipe at the back wherethe water emerges, ready for drinking.

What goes on inside? As Janicki explains it,the OmniProcessor is really three things: a steam power plant, an incinerator,and a water filtration system (see video below). The trick is that these threethings feed off each other, in sometimes recursive ways. “The first thingI did was work out the thermodynamics,” says Janicki. “It’s a little bit likean accountant looking through things and saying: ‘Do we have enough money tomake this thing work? What does the balance sheet look like?’ I did the samething, looking at the energy, and was pleasantly surprised early on that itlooked like this could work. And once I figured that out, it was just amatter of dealing with the details.”

A steam engine generates heat for a dryer,which accepts the raw sewage and dries it out. Then the sludge is boiled,and this separates the solids from the water. The incinerator then burns thedried-out solids, producing a high-temperature, high-pressure steamthat helps drive the steam engine and, through a generator, makes electricitythat can power the OmniProcessor. And the process repeats.

At the same time, water vapor produced by thesludge dryer travels through a cyclone to spin out any entrained particles, andthen other filters—a coarse filter and a fine half-micron membrane filter thatresembles Goretex fabric—remove additional substances. A condenser then turnsthe vapor back into water, which is aerated and passes throughmultiple activated charcoal filters.

The water is indeed drinkable—I’ve tried itmyself—and Janicki says his company has tested it against varioussupermarket brands. “Our water meets or exceeds the standards of every one ofthose,” he tells me.

But the plant provides more than just water.The steam plant produces additional electricity, and the solids left by theboiler—a kind of non-toxic ash—contain phosphorus and potassium, which can beused for soil fertilizer. As described by Janicki, it’s the very model ofefficiency. But there’s still work to be done. Gates’ visit is just the end ofthe project’s initial phase.

As we climb the aluminum stairs, Janickipeers at something on the side of the machine and then shouts down to someoneon the ground. “Hey Roy?” he says. “We’ve got a joint that’s leaking here.” Heblames a rip in a rubber seal on the cold Seattle temperatures, and soon, hehands me off to a colleague, hurrying back to the main building.