A solid Effort MetaFLO Working to Decrease the Liquid Waste Stream

solideffort1Strike up a conversation with someone who works in the horizontal directional drilling (HDD) field and they will likely tell you that one the biggest issues they face is mud disposal.

As governmental entities more strictly enforce regulations pertaining to waste disposal, especially these liquid wastes, the sites where companies can transport the spoils are becoming few and far between. This equates to increased disposal costs coupled with increased transport fees.

“The cost of transportation and disposal can be fairly expensive even as a solid going into a landfill,” says Andrew McNabb, president and CEO of MetaFLO Technologies. “You might pay, depending on jurisdiction, but I will use something local in Ontario, $38 a ton going into a landfill plus whatever the transportation was to get it there.”
MetaFLO Technologies, based in Toronto, specializes in liquid waste treatment using the company’s proprietary PDM-300 mixing unit and its R-T-S reagent. The MetaFLO methodology takes liquid waste and converts it to a soft solid waste that landfills will accept.

“MetaFLO’s technology consists of a patented, high volume mixing unit and proprietary reagents that shear a clay/polymer blend into the liquid waste generated at the drill site. The chemistry turns the liquid into a soft solid for simple disposal,” McNabb says. “MetaFLO also has a reagent designed for small volumes or semi-solid material that can be mixed mechanically at the site of the drill operation.”

There are alternatives to these methods like buying scrap polymers or other products that aid in solidification through simple adsorption. Those methods are more costly because they rely on an operator mixing the polymer into the liquid using an excavator and backhoe resulting in more product being used and increased costs.

“Using our equipment is significantly more efficient because we actually pump the waste through the machine and sheer our reagent into the fluid resulting in very, very, homogeneous distribution of the re-agent into the fluid as opposed to trying to force it into the fluid,” he says.

A worker stand on drill slurry solidified using the MetaFLO technology. The slurry solidifies in minutes.

A worker stand on drill slurry solidified using the MetaFLO technology. The slurry solidifies in minutes.

So how did the creation of the MetaFLO methods come to be? As McNabb tells the story, it was all about manure.
Equipment had been developed to address a problem with pig manure. This process prompted the mandate that flocculants be added to the manure to remove the solids for beneficial use and treat the water for irrigation.
It happened that one of the people involved in the process of treating the manure, which led to the creation of MetaFLO’s reagent and mixing units, also worked in the HDD field. He saw room for growth and the company, then Surface to Surface Waste Management, tackled about every job that came its way before McNabb stepped in at the end of 2009 and focused the company on the HDD and drilling industry.

“It was certainly a slow start. We did a fairly broad range. We were after the liquid industrial waste streams,” McNabb says. “That incorporated drilling slurry, liquid industrial waste from transfer stations, food wastes we were also running flocculent and then we decided, we have a product and process that is market tested with a high level of success. The technology provides, good cost management and a significant cost-savings right off the bat in the HDD sector.”

By narrowing its focus, MetaFLO was able to expand beyond Canada’s borders and now has licensees in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. MetaFLO’s Canadian licensees are EnviroBore Directional Drilling, KBL Environmental and Allstream Waste Solutions.

The licensees work with organizations like Enbridge Pipeline, Enbridge Gas Distribution, Union Gas, Aecon, Michels and Nexen among others. MetaFLO provides the technology, supports it in the field and markets the technology for further adoption.

Since direct competition in the market is narrow, McNabb often refers to vacuum trucks as his direct competitors. The reference is easy to see when considering the dearth of other equipment able to remove liquid waste from HDD project sites.

EnviroBore, which works predominately in western Canada, recently had a project in Alberta that required material treated as it came to the surface. McNabb says the company’s non-MetaFLO alternative would be loading about 7-tons into a vac truck and hauling it four to five hours away to a transfer station that accepts liquid waste. By treating on-site, 22 tons of solids were transported away in a single trip with a dump truck to a landfill.

McNabb pointed out that the per-hour cost on a vacuum truck in Ontario is typically $190 to $225 and about $350 an hour in western Canada.

Another carrot that MetaFLO can dangle in front of prospective customers is the technology’s ease of use in hard to reach, and sloppy conditions. By turning the liquid waste to a solid, it can be stockpiled onsite until the end of the project decreasing the likelihood of equipment becoming stuck trying to retrieve it on a daily basis as a liquid.
“We were at an Enbridge Pipeline project and they tried to get a vac truck in and it got stuck on the temporary road,” McNabb recalled. “Whereas Allstream Waste Solutions, using MetaFLO technology, can be in there, treat it and turn it into a solid; pumping from one sump and discharging into another and turning it into a solid material that they can take out at the end of the project.”

The MetaFLO PDM-300D is shown here with the optional emergency air intake shutdown and remote mounted air breather.

The MetaFLO PDM-300D is shown here with the optional emergency air intake shutdown and remote mounted air breather.

While working on a project proposal that would generate about 50,000 cubic metres of waste, McNabb calculated that, the use of the MetaFLO technology would eliminate the requirement for approximately 12,000 trips by vacuum trucks on local highways.

Looking ahead, McNabb sees opportunity for growth in the industry for waste solidification services as there is increased scrutiny of drilling fluids and fewer places will accept liquid waste.

In some instances, especially where the Canadian oil sands are booming, one vac truck might be able to make only one trip per day to a treatment facility given loading and unloading times coupled with a facility backlogged with similar trucks.

Aside from the well-documented cost-savings to vac trucks, the company is in the process of exploring the reuse of the solids in an agriculture setting depending on what containments are present in the liquid waste. Some of that work is happening with the Australian MetaFLO licensee.

“There may be opportunities for that treated material to be used in perhaps sod farms or other opportunities where the polymer provides improved water retention and the clay is useful in composting. The analytical has to be done that show the material is clear of other potential contaminants then those opportunities exist.” McNabb says
The growth of the company since McNabb rebranded it in 2010, as well as the potential for future growth has the MetaFLO engineers designing a larger machine.

The PDM model available today can handle about 100 gallons per minute (gpm) this new 6-in. machine will be capable of 800 to 1,000 gpm.

“MetaFLO provides solutions for large projects as well as small,” McNabb says. “With high profile organizations like Union Gas and Enbridge requiring solidification on-site as part of their scopes of work and the cost associated with vacuum trucks, fuel and pressure for waste diversion from landfill, the opportunity for growth is significant.”
Mike Kezdi is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.
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