The End-Game of Biosolids Management in the UK Water Market
Tali (Miller) Harif, Ph.D, MBA shared her insights with Water Magazine on the end-game of biosolids management in the UK water industry, and how to shift the paradigm of industry practices with supercritical water oxidation.
- What inspired you to go into the water and wastewater industry?
From childhood, I was always troubled by news on the TV about droughts and lack of water, particularly in Africa. I imagine that all of us can vividly picture communities with no sanitation relying on contaminated water sources. After graduating with two degrees in Chemistry, I wanted to further my academic education in a more practical subject that would truly be impactful at scale and would help make the world a better place. Water was the obvious choice; I was accepted to a PhD program in environmental engineering and have never looked back. I’ve had the privilege to work in many market verticals and countries and experience first-hand how the use of technology and better water management practices can make a huge difference. My goal has always been to be able to look back at my career and feel that I accomplished something impactful. Working in water allows you to do that.
- What challenge is your technology addressing in the water sector?
374Water is working to shift the waste management paradigm. Wastewater and waste are looked upon as a disposable end product, not a resource that could actually provide immense value. In addition, conventional disposal routes can be a source of pollution. Examples are seepage at landfills, hazardous emissions from incinerators, infiltration of carcinogenic micropollutants, such as PFAS, into the soil and water sources from land application of municipal sludge. This creates a perpetual cycle of environmental pollution that should be unacceptable today, with environmental sustainability high on global agendas. Conventional methods simply don’t cut it anymore, they cannot meet the changing regulatory landscape, and therefore deeply rooted practices must change. Our technology uses a novel approach to super critical water oxidization (SCWO) to solve these issues by offering a highly effective waste and wastewater stream elimination technology and enabling valuable resource recovery. We eliminate sludge and hazardous compounds very effectively, generate reusable effluent streams, and recover energy that is used to power the systems. A true end-to-end green technology.
- What changes have you seen in the last 20 years?
Depletion of water sources remains a pivotal and alarming global problem, with an estimated 4 billion people currently suffering from some degree of water scarcity. To be brutally honest, I believe the pace of change within the industry has been painstakingly slow – not much has happened in the sector over the past 20 years that I could mark as truly ‘game- changing, both in terms of mindset and implementation of new technologies. Movement is incremental and not fast enough
That said, key advancements have occurred in digitisation and use of the “Internet of Things (IoT), utilizing smart sensors and algorithms to monitor assets more effectively and gather real-time data that supports asset maintenance and operations. Use of lot for leakage detection in the drinking water supply network is effective and has gained momentum. With the digital revolution, use of ‘smart data’ is almost expected, however if we look at water and wastewater treatment technologies, advancements are minimal.
- What steps are you taking to encourage women’s growth within your organisation?
At 374Water we embrace gender equality and diversity. Our belief is that a diverse workforce is a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have.’ It is well documented that diversity drives innovation and achieving it is core to our business activities and, ultimately, success. We apply measures both in our recruitment campaigns and in our company policies to ensure women receive equal opportunity and are able to grow with the organisation. A few examples: We target women in all recruitment campaigns, including senior roles, using dedicated networks, we apply an equal pay policy based on expertise and experience, offer a fair parental leave policy, promote work-life balance, and embrace a transparent culture where everyone has a voice. That being said, we also recognise that we have challenges and appreciate that we must be more inventive sometimes to achieve our diversity goals across the organisation. This is an ongoing effort, supported by the executive team, of which I’m also a member.
- What are your hopes for the future of women in technology?
It’s undeniable that women in technology roles are grossly under-represented. From a young age they are not provided with enough encouragement and information to choose a technology career. In addition, the lack of female role models in technology only reinforces the perception that a technology career isn’t for them. My hopes are that both utilities and water technology companies will take more of an active role Together with schools, we must initiate programs to raise awareness and interest in young girls and support efforts to build the skills, enthusiasm and confidence that will help drive a change. Whilst large digital tech corporations have identified a need to future-proof their workforce, and initiated programs to do so, the water sector must work to be more forward thinking in that respect. As a typically reactive and male-dominated industry, there is still much work to do. We are doing our “little bit” to make a difference but it requires prioritisation, proactivity and focus.