Industry veteran offers insight on the evolution of the water treatment business
As the water treatment industry has evolved, facilities have gone from primarily using chemicals to using aeration technologies on a more consistent basis. In much the same way, Paul Turgeon has gone from working in the chemical sector to becoming CEO of Anue Water Technologies, which creates products that use advanced ozone and oxygen technology to combat odor and fats, oils, and grease. Turgeon, who recently joined the editorial board of W&WD, spoke with W&WD Associate Editor Michael Meyer about the past, present and future of the water treatment industry.
Michael Meyer: What are some challenges in municipal water treatment today?
Paul Turgeon: Municipalities around these plants have grown, but the plants haven’t been able to keep pace with the growth, and so they’re getting beyond their capacity, so you have these systems running in a different way than what was originally planned. It presents problems on the collection side, focused around the accumulation of fats, oils and grease.
[Some] systems go low-flow during the evening, and then you get more flow during the daytime. During those processes and that kind of flow profile, you can get anaerobic conditions, which leads to bacteria that are called sulfate-reducing bacteria. They generate sulfides, and sulfides will corrode iron and other ferrous metals. So you have a big problem from the view of protecting your asset, and it can lead to downtime and unplanned maintenance. With the fats, oils and grease in lift stations, oftentimes they have to use [vacuum] trucks to pump it out frequently, so you’re into pretty significant additional costs.
Meyer: What technologies will be important to the future of wastewater treatment?
Turgeon: It’s going in the direction of less continuous use of chemicals to more mechanical and/or environmentally friendly methods of getting to where you need to be to purify or condition water. Chemicals were big from the ‘40s to the ’70s, and then from the ‘70s to the ‘80s there was more filtration and nanofiltration. Currently there’s much more use of ozone and chlorine dioxide in applications where they need to remediate the water—they need environmentally friendly but powerful oxidants.
Ozone, from a chemical academic point of view, is the most powerful oxidant that you could possibly use. Not surprisingly, then, when you’ve got some difficult requirements, it’s the most powerful oxidant that can provide you the most cost-effective solution, as long as you can generate it safely and economically.
Meyer: What are some trends for the present and future of the industrial water treatment sector?
Turgeon: There is a general trend to regulate the use of chemicals and hazardous substances. That’s narrowing the field of the traditional answers or approaches that could be used, and it’s leading to some innovations, because if you can’t use what you have been using, there’s an opportunity for companies that have the capability to innovate and get something that both is effective in use and will meet the new regulatory requirements.
Companies are trying to use less and less water. It’s about cost, and it’s about the water that they emit—usually they’ll need discharge permits for [it]. The discharge permit environment is getting more difficult as regulations get more stringent. It’s leading businesses to reuse water or try to not have any leave the plant.
There’s a need for potable industrial-use water that is growing incrementally, and the sources of potable water are dwindling. In some developing countries where they’re building infrastructure, there simply isn’t a good source of potable water. This has been well documented ... That macrotrend is having a big impact and is leading to fabulous innovation and growth opportunities for companies that can help increase the efficiency and viability of converting seawater to usable potable water or for other industrial uses.
The Business of Water
In addition to his expertise in water treatment, Turgeon has been involved with mergers and acquisitions (M&A). He said low interest rates have resulted in an active M&A environment in the water industry, due to investment money pouring in from outside the industry in search of significant returns.
“The trend that’s impacting all M&A right now is the 0% interest environment that has been prolonged through government policy here in the U.S.,” Turgeon said. “I wouldn’t say we’re in a bubble, but I would say that company assets are being valued at quite a high level right now because there’s so much interest—not only the traditional interest that you’d have from industry.”
However, Turgeon feels that this aspect of the business will likely change in the near future.
“With the election of [President Donald] Trump … there’s an expectation now that we’ll get back to a much more normal kind of business environment with good business growth,” he said. “Interest rates will start increasing, and the knock-on effect will be that there will be other investment areas that were traditionally of interest to those big funds, and those big entities [will] be able to invest in a more diverse way and be a little less dependent on private equity. That will temper the valuation in the segment.”
Paul Turgeon is CEO of Anue Water Technologies. He purchased the industrial water business of Chemtura Corp. (previously owned by Ciba Geigy, Nalco, FMC and Great Lakes Chemical) for $80 million with partners and private equity in 2006, and created BWA Water Additives. He grew this business as its president/COO during a period of 4.5 years, and in 2011 sold it to the Berwind Corp. for $325 million. Since then, he has served on the boards of U.S. Water Services and Anue Water Technologies and played a key role in several mergers and acquisitions. He earned an MBA from Emory University and a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Toronto. Turgeon can be reached at [email protected] or 760.727.2683 .