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Industrial Micro Electrochemical Cell sensors for real-time quantification of H2S in wastewater

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - iMEC (Industrial Micro Electrochemical Cell sensors for real-time quantification of H2S in wastewater)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2017-09-30

Danish SME Unisense A/S has developed an industrial Micro Electrochemical Cell sensor (iMEC) for automatically quantifying dissolved gasses in liquids. In this project, we will optimize our existing handmade sensors, customized for each client, to an auto-calibrated industrial version, targeting wastewater utility companies.
In the sewer systems, the prevalence of the toxic H2S gas (sewage gas) causes sewer corrosion and collapse, while at the same time entailing odour nuisances for the population living nearby. The robust iMEC sensor can be installed directly in the sewer network to accurately map H2S contents in real-time, and provide feedback to pumping stations to adjust the chemicals dosed accordingly. This will allow utilities to effectively control H2S levels in wastewater, thereby avoiding corrosion and toxic H2S leaks, and bringing significant economical savings to utilities and municipalities.
The main objectives of this project were: 1) the optimization of sensor design to avoid build-up of biological material around the sensor body; 2) the development of a viable business plan; 3) plan the SME Phase 2 project.

These objectives were pursued during the SME Phase 1 Instrument through the execution of 6 tasks, namely:

• Task 1 – Market Analysis
• Task 2 - Commercialization strategy and regulatory requirements
• Task 3 - IPR analysis
• Task 4 - Optimization of mechanical sensor design
• Task 5 - Planning for the phase 2 Innovation project
• Task 6 - Business plan and suitable business model

The main conclusions from the execution of these 6 tasks are that iMEC is technically feasible, have the desired benefits and the production can be upscaled to the volume needed for the targeted markets. The market and competitor analysis above have identified segments and highlighted our competitive strengths.
In general, we can summarize that in order to be considered by the targeted users/stakeholders, the solution has to be certificated, tested and demonstrated in real conditions. Therefore, during the innovation project, Unisense want to mature and prepare market roll-out of its solution by optimizing its functionalities, validating the technology in an operational environment engaging with several stakeholders . The innovation project will be an opportunity to test, validate and update iMEC sensor and the commercialization strategy for the initial targeted market (Scandinavia, UK and Netherlands). This feasibility study leads us to the conclusion that the critical path to market is market acceptance from all downstream stakeholders. Thus, the focus of the innovation project (phase 2) will prepare for market uptake by demonstrating the functionality of the iMEC sensor concept in a full system solution in the sewer networks of Aarhus Water Utility in Denmark and Thames Water in England.
The feasibility study clearly shows that iMEC holds a range of clear advantages compared to the traditional solutions used today to manage H2S levels in WWT. More specifically, iMEC will provide: i) the ability to measure the H2S content already in the liquid phase - allowing for instant feedback control for the chemical dosing pumps; ii) a short reaction time (down to 0.3 seconds) which allows for fast detection of variations in H2S levels; iii) extremely low electricity consumption, allowing it to be battery powered (battery lifetime is at least 6 months); iv) ability operate continuously under anaerobic conditions; v) low skill requirement for its installation and operation; vi) cost-effectiveness with reduced total cost of ownership; vii) easy and straight forward integration with existing software platforms. Therefore, Unisense has developed the iMEC sensor for industrial production, initially targeting WW applications, with a long lifespan and extremely high uniformity, which enables factory calibration and thus can be scaled for mass-production
In the short term, the Unisense aims to exploit European markets which will probably require us to create partnerships. Consequently, in the innovation project, we will develop a strategy to engage with possible partners. Furthermore, we have freedom to operate and to exploit the technology concept in the WWT industry. Last but not least, the product certification and the extensive knowledge developed during the last years will not be possible to rapidly replicate by other competitors, giving a critical exploitation advantage for Unisense, as holder of the most promising technology for H2S monitoring and management.
Based on the feasibility study, we have decided to apply to the SME instrument phase 2 with unchanged aim and objectives. The project will be fundamental to achieve the documentation for the benefits of the new H2S sensor concept, for getting the end-users to showcase it and to certificate the iMEC concept. The innovation project will be a crucial step in our route-to-market strategy and with a successful outcome, we will be ready for market introduction.
Our ambition, supported in the SME Instrument, is to bring strong top-line growth into the company through the global commercialization of iMEC, transforming it in the global industry standard for H2S sensors in WWT sector over the next 5-7 years and enabling a pervasive and seamless implementation of a High Performing Asset Management (HPAM) strategy in WWT industry. Following the WWT market penetration, the sensor can also be adapted for oil, biogas and natural gas applications.

Besides giving to Unisense a technological leap with the consequent competitive advantage and export potential, the iMEC project (Phase 1 and 2) will strengthen the company position and assist Europe in achieving objectives for environmental and quality of life policy. This project will therefore entail increased competitiveness for the WWT’s SME value chain and for the EU as a whole. Overall, this opens not only an important economic opportunity for Unisense – expecting over €15M in cumulative profits, 5 years’ post-project – but will ultimately lead to a more sustainable WWT process, as well as important cost savings for the entire value chain.

In an initial commercialization phase, we expect that most of iMEC sensors sold will be used directly as feedback for dosing control or as tool to diagnose and document problems. As the market confidence in iMEC increases, iMEC will be increasingly purchased to monitoring the overall state of the network and providing multiple data points for quantification of the sulphide exposure at the various network sections thereby enabling a future digitalization/big data/HPAM approach where preventive maintenance can be forecasted and emergency repair work due to unexpected breakage minimized.

In a more immediate perspective the benefits of adopting iMEC are a real-time accurate picture of H2S occurrence in the sewer system, allowing the identification of most problematic spots and the installation of automatic chemical dosing systems, by providing a sensor signal as feedback to the dosing pump. The installation of the iMEC sensor can save a mid-size utility more than €350.000 over 5 years in chemical expenses alone, while in a longer term the savings resulting from increasing the lifetime of WW system assets and an effective implementation of a HPAM strategy can lead to annual savings that can represent up to 50% of total utilities' expenses with asset management.

Our goal with the iMEC project (Phase 1 and 2) is to overcome prominent barriers that may hinder the successful market uptake of iMEC technology (e.g. technology risk perception, lack of certification). Furthermore, we aim to mature the technology and clearly demonstrate its functionality and benefits to the end-users. This will be achieved through in-situ demonstrations and product certification, which are essential for a wide market penetration. Already at this early stage, we received positive feedback and formal engagement from major stakeholders (e.g. Aarhus Vand, Thames Water, MJK Xylem and Grundfos ) with respect to our concept and initial results and benefits

In our SME Phase 1 project we have assessed in close collaboration with several stakeholders that the replication of our solution should be achieved by: i) overcoming barriers and challenges associated with the introduction of an innovative sensor in the conservative WWT market; and ii) supporting commercial development and generating market uptake of our solution through in-situ demonstration, certification, value chain and market development, with a focus on the initially targeted market segment (i.e. Scandinavia, UK and Netherlands).