Nutrient Recovery and Upcycling unveils pilot water treatment process

The future of wastewater treatment may be changing as Nutrient Recovery and Upcycling LLC’s new technology enters testing phases this summer thanks to two Department of Agriculture SBIR grants and other resources from the Center for Technology Commercialization.

NRU is moving along with plans to implement a trial of their wastewater treatment process in Woodridge, Illinois by mid-July. This follows their recent recognition at the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, where they placed third in the advanced manufacturing division.

“The conference parallels what we’re doing overall,” NRU president Menachem Tabanpour said. “Technology validation is very important for making sure the business plan is robust.”

NRU’s patented technology will help treatment facilities run more efficiently and make it possible to repurpose valuable phosphorus byproducts into a sellable fertilizer.

“Our process collects excess phosphorus from our diets that end up in the wastewater,” Tabanpour said during his presentation at the competition. “Our technology lowers the cost of wastewater treatment and helps wastewater treatment plants deal with the cost of increasing regulation.”

This technology has been under development since 2002 when UW-Madison professor Phillip Barak began working with a series of graduate students who were researching phosphorus recovery. Tabanpour joined the project after he got his undergraduate degree and began turning the project into a business. Teaming up with CTC Associate Director, Dave Linz, helped with further work on funding and commercialization.

“It was really perfect because [Linz] has an engineering background and has used very similar technology that I used,” Tabanpour said. “It was really perfect for getting all of the details on how the business needed to work. Since then, Dave has been my main contact at the CTC and we regularly go back and forth on grants.”

In 2013 the company received a Phase 1 USDA SBIR grant for $100,000 and CTC later awarded the company an SBIR Advance grant for further assistance with the construction of their pilot device. A $450,000 Phase 2 USDA SBIR grant one year later put the company in a good place to finalize their pilot and look at more expansion opportunities.

“That grant really made it possible to get where we are now and ready to demonstrate a pilot,” Tabanpour said.

Tabanpour said he believes NRU can become a significant presence in its market within the next decade.

“We hope to be in 20 percent of the market in the next 10 years,” he said. “That would generate $90 million in fertilizer sales and save wastewater treatment plants about $75 million.”