30 July 2003

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Saving our precious water

MATTHEW VELLA speaks to Mario Duca, managing director of FM Environmental Malta, which has developed into one of the strongest players in the wastage treatment sector and talks about ways to save the scarcest of resources in Malta – water.Mario Duca

FM Environmental today enjoys one of the strongest and most respected of positions in the international market for wastewater treatment. Its Malta offshoot however, has become one of its most important centres for the development of wastewater treatment systems, today the Mediterranean hub for FM Environmental international.
The company started off as a supplier and distributor 12 years ago, developing a strong local market, until in 1998 FM Environmental Malta took off as the regional representative of its international parent company.
"FM Malta operates for the international group, and all Mediterranean countries. These are all directly under our responsibility. We do all marketing and research and export directly to these countries," Mario Duca, managing director FM Environmental Malta says.
"Although we have been operating for the past 12 years, we only moved recently here in this factory in April because of the drastic increase in our workload and export demand. We are now 100 per cent export company. We have a continuous production line going on with the domestic sewage treatment products."
FM Environmental Malta continued to reinforce its presence in the Gulf region by participating at the Big 5 Show in Dubai last October. This show provided a snapshot of the region, allowing FM Environmental to gauge how to best market its products into the Middle East. At the Big 5, FM had a stand within the Maltese pavilion organized by the Malta Export Trade Corporation.
"FM Malta has also developed as the manufacturing and the R&D side of the international company. We develop products and upgraded products first developed by the international group and took them under our wing. One example of this was the Grease Guardian, where we developed an electronic panel for the grease-removal facility in Malta. It is now awaiting CE approval."
FM Environmental, whose range of products fall under wastewater treatment, are based in Marsa industrial area where their factory has taken on manufacturing and design of the FM product range. Their products cater for wastewater treatment, farm waste treatment systems, domestic and municipal wastewater treatment systems.
The product range of FM Environmental falls under two sectors, namely liquid and sewage treatment; and farm waste. By partnering up with foreign partners, FM Environmental can develop its products to higher standards, as well as ensuring a strong export base. Their products are all developed locally, but cater for waste treatment systems for up to 15,000 population areas.
"We are targeting a specific niche market, a sector where we have developed very strong capabilities. We have become very efficient and very focused on these lines."
Locally, FM has had to build its name and reputation through the reliability of their products and after-sale services they provide.
"Anyone in the know immediately think of FM when it comes to waste treatment systems. However, the mentality of re-using our waste is still catching up," Mario Duca says.
Any concept of waste treatment has so far not yet picked up on the Maltese psyche, where high rate of consumption and waste have contributed to an enormous waste problem. The results are visible everywhere, and not only when it comes to landfills in the case of solids, but in the wastage of water that plagues the island, and the great demand for it.
Mario Duca makes his case for a more efficient use of our most scarce of resources: "We are paying a lot of money for our water, which we use only once at a time, then throw it away.
"We are wasting our resources. We are throwing our money down the drain, literally. With 95 per cent of the Maltese population connected to the main sewer, it is very convenient and easy to consume all the water that is passing through and forgetting our responsibilities. We are throwing away money.
"If we use re-user systems for wastewater, by utilising the right type of technology, which is important to ensure a high standard of treated water, there would be no danger or risk for the reuse of water. The costs of re-processing of wastewater are the cheapest options available for the re-use of water.
"We have a lot of villas in Malta where they have large gardens, and the wastewater is literally thrown away when they could easily re-use their wastewater for their garden. This is common practice in Europe. Until now, cisterns and cess-pits were accepted, but are now being phased out. They want to protect their environment by re-using their water.
"In Malta we don’t have water where we need to irrigate and we are wasting our water. Why? Because water is still being subsidised by the government. So it is easier to open the tap instead of installing a wastewater treatment plant and use that re-treated water for irrigation."
The ComPac wastewater treatment systems are in fact capable of ammonia and nitrate removal, as well capable of phosphate removal upon modification. The treatment systems are designed to treat wastewater from all domestic and some industrial sources, and are ideal for towns and villages, large hotels, work camps, housing developments and the food processing industry.
The Biofilter SAM package sewage treatment units are designed to treat wastewater flows for populations of up to 250 persons, producing an effluent to comply with discharge consent limits for BOD, S.S., and nitrified effluents.
The Biofilter SAM system incorporates "Submerged Aerated Media" to provide a high quality biological treatment process. Of compact design, the unit contains primary sludge settlement, biological treatment and a final settlement in a single GRP structure.
The BIOFILTER, a domestic version for sewage treatment, is a three-stage purification process employing an aerobic biological principle serving populations of seven and over. The system is ideal for single house and small communities. Low maintenance requirements and power consumption enable biofilter installations to provide a cost effective answer to the environmental pollution problem.
For difficult sites, the biofilter can be supplied with a final effluent pump and alarm option. This gives greater flexibility and allows disposal of the final effluent to sub-soil irrigation or to a mound percolation system. Careful consideration in design has been given for easy and safe access for desludging, pump maintenance and for inspection purposes.
Mario Duca says the environmental sector in the world of commerce has not always yielded favourable results. Whist both critics and supporters of alternative forms of energy and waste use have sparked on the debate on waste, he says there are both feasible and non-feasible sectors in the world of environmental economics.
In this case FM Environmental have been stepping up their awareness campaigns for the re-usage of wastewater.
"We have been educating people and it is catching up. We have been approached to provide solutions for certain main projects, which are still in the pipeline. But we are looking towards the future even though there is no mentality for the concept of re-usage of treatment. It is always the end-user that has to be convinced of the benefits of the product. Government can also contribute to the creation of this awareness.
"With industrial and commercial entities it is very much easier to convince, since solutions make sense and pay for themselves in a relatively short time. Wastewater treatment sources are the cheapest forms of solutions. The processes we propose are always 100 per cent biological. The only chemicals used are in the disinfection stage but these are begin phased out."
Another example of FM Environmental’s superb range of products is the Grease Guardian, which takes in kitchen wastewater effluent, traps solids and isolates wastewater. As fats and oils rise to the surface, wastewater is returned to the drain and the oils are extracted into a collection bin. The smart product, nowadays a requisite for catering establishments, also permits these establishments to sell their waste oil to refining companies.
"FME is now exporting a large quantity of its products all over the world, but with products constructed through local expertise," Mario Duca says. "CE testing is conducted outside of the island, but as in the case of the Grease Guardian, where a mechanical panel was changed for an electronic solution with additional safety features, it is mainly local expertise that comprises FM Environmental. We also co-operate with Maltese know-how to develop international products."

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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