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Aussie’s clean-tech design combats water scarcity in drought-stricken regions

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autodesk cleantech seriesIn this special Cleantech Innovation Series sponsored by Autodesk you’ll hear unique insights from a number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovative cleantech companies designing and building solutions for a more sustainable future. See more here.

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention and the oncoming challenges of an expanding global population, climate change and water scarcity are certainly giving cleantech companies something to think about.

While financially viable renewable energy and energy storage options for households will see a massive uptake in coming years, one company is focusing on further improving the ‘building blocks’ of a home to elevate it’s energy rating beyond the hallowed ten stars.

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Nexus eWater is an Australian start-up that’s taken up the challenge of answering a specific question; how can householders use grey water more effectively?

They’ve developed an innovative solution that’s emerged onto the American residential construction landscape and has piqued the interest of some of that country’s biggest volume builders one of whom will be trialling it at a new development in drought-stricken California.

“Narrowing in on the US market made sense because the drought had passed here in Australia, there wasn’t a huge demand for our technology, but some of the US states, like California, Nevada and Arizona, have profound water issues,” says Nexus eWater COO Andrew Hermann.

“We’re focused on grey water which is pretty much the waste from washing people and their clothes. The reason we see it as a good resource is that it’s produced in vast quantities in every home every day and, as a water source, it’s pretty much warm soapy water that doesn’t need a lot of treatment before you’re left with near-potable water for reuse.”

“We’ve taken the approach that technology advancements mean we’re actually at the point where there are no other opportunities to save water in the home, so there’s a huge need for tech such as ours which harnesses waste water and reuses water and energy onsite.”

The product suite

SEACLIFF1-tomwood-neuman_t837-300x203Andrew explains that Nexus eWater have developed two parts to their current suite of products, the NexTreater and NexHeater. The market for both these products is new home builds; unless an existing older home has underfloor access and space in which to locate the systems, they can be difficult to retrofit.

“The NexTreater for family homes has a capacity of 200 gallons (260 L) per day and takes water from showers and laundry, removes soaps and contaminants using a patent-pending process. It’s then sterilised and stored in a tank for reuse as toilet flushing water or outdoor irrigation.”

“It really gaining a lot of interest in the US when we launched this product earlier this year, particularly in California because it’s the first grey water system to be certified by US standards.”

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Garden pit for the NEXtreater system.

“We undertook really stringent tests, with a 6 month system testing phase without any maintenance or servicing to achieve some high performance parameters. So we were really pleased to have recently partnered with a US builder to have this product as standard in a new development of over 50 homes.”

It was while developing the NexTreater that the Nexus eWater team discovered something about waste grey water that led to the development of the NexHeater; grey water is usually warm, having come from the shower or washing machine. They realised not only are households losing potentially reusable water, they are also losing precious heat down the drain.

“We really discovered this by accident!” says Andrew. “When we ran the numbers, we found that the embedded heat in grey water could be used through a heat pump process that extracts the heat from the waste water and then reheats clean water in a standalone system.”

Revolutionising grey water use

Nexus eWater’s technology is revolutionary for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a pioneering grey water system based on a non-biological technology, so the antibacterial soaps and detergents used in the household don’t affect the system process itself. Instead, Nexus eWater have developed an innovative sanitising process that uses the soaps and detergents to kickstart the grey water cleaning process, filtering and disinfecting it ready for the storage tank.“The other great thing is that householders don’t have to change their habits in order to use either the NexTreater or NexHeater,” says Andrew. “They can continue to use their favourite brand of washing detergent, as much water as they always did and still cut their water usage.”

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The NEXtreater as a standalone unit.

This, of course, is also appealing to volume builders who not only have to meet government-set energy efficiency targets, but also the ‘green’ demands of savvy clients who want to live sustainably but are unwilling to change their lifestyle habits.

“There has also been resistance from existing neighbourhoods in drought stricken areas to building new housing estates because of water restrictions,” says Andrew. “Current residents are worried about water scarcity and don’t want more people moving to the area and competing for that resource.”

“So the main driver for builders is being able to say up to 40-45% of a new home’s water is recycled is a big deal for them and the technology is paying for itself almost from day one.”

CAD software helps technology flow

Nexus eWater’s technology was developed with Autodesk computer aided design (CAD) software, which helped them design products from the ground up, from small components right through to large scale metal work and frames.

Autodesk is a multinational company that provides 3D design software for a range of applications including for the engineering, architecture, manufacturing, media and entertainment industries.

Originating in the US, Autodesk launched the Australian arm of it’s Cleantech Partner Program in 2013, which encourages cleantech innovators to solve the challenges of a growing global population by providing complimentary digital prototyping software to design and simulate pioneering ideas.

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AutoDesk helped Nexus eWater to model load analysis on the NEXservoir.

“We were lucky enough to be introduced to Autodesk through a few competitions they were sponsoring in the US,” said Andrew. “We won the licences to use Autodesk Inventor Professional; for a cleantech start up company there’s nothing more vital than having good CAD.”

“Autodesk allowed us to design simple things like how off-shelf components would sit together to form a package right through to underground water storage tanks that we couldn’t build ourselves; we undertook structural analysis and then sent the plans to a fabricator in the US to build.”

“It was great to be able to do all the design in Australia and it made the manufacturing process very simple as the fabricator had all the information they needed and really didn’t have to refer back to us.”

Nexus eWater were also the launch partner of the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program, providing an excellent lead example and paving the way for other new start-ups wanting to emulate this home-grown innovation.

Taking on the world

As the uptake of Nexus eWater’s products builds in the US, the company will start to turn their sights on Australia.

“The US is expansive and it’s been great to find investment and the progressive builders – so we can use that experience to bring these products back to Australia with the expectation that we’ll be in drought again. From this base, we’ll then aim for the Asian markets.”

The Nexus eWater team at the PCBC homebuilding trade show in San Fransisco.

The Nexus eWater team at the PCBC homebuilding trade show in San Fransisco.

“Interestingly, for a lot of the places we sell to, environmental concerns are least important, people really just want to save money on their utility bills – that’s a motivating factor. The second motivating factor are water restrictions; Australians are more accustomed to it, but Americans find it oppressive to be told when they can and can’t water their gardens.”

“The shift we’re starting to see now is people looking towards to carbon neutral homes,” says Andrew. “Gas for water heating is not efficient from a greenhouse gas position and it doesn’t matter how many solar panels you put on the roof, you have to offset that gas use. Our systems cuts that out completely and allows people to take that step towards carbon neutrality.”

Andrew will be presenting a talk titled “The necessary future of water and energy conservation” at the Autodesk University in Sydney on 20th August. For more information please visit their website.

autodesk cleantech series

Nexus eWater is part of the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program. The program supports clean technology innovators who are developing innovative solutions to solve the world’s environmental challenges. As part of the program, eligible companies receive world-class software to design, visualise, and simulate their ideas and accelerate their time to market through 3D Digital Prototyping. To apply for or learn more, visit www.autodesk.com.au/cleantech

This post is sponsored by the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program.  

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  • Ruben

    Why does reneweconomy not understand that if you have a thumbnail picture, you should hyperlink it to a larger version of that picture, not the very same picture?

    • Emma Sutcliffe

      Hi Ruben, thanks for your comment. I know we have to reduce the size of the pics to under 1mb before they can be uploaded to the back end of the site – some of these have to be reduced quite a lot so that might account for the thumbnail not increasing in size when clicked on. Will ask the website guys how we can do things differently! Cheers, Emma