International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems Inc. recycles wasted water into heat
Lynn Mueller is no Johnny-come-lately to the environmental movement. The former Alberta farmer tells the Georgia Straight over the phone that he’s been in the sustainable-energy business for 25 years.
He was among the first in B.C. to install geothermal heat pumps, which capture warmth from under the soil to heat buildings. They are in numerous high-rise developments, including the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel in downtown Vancouver. Mueller’s former company, Earth Source Energy, also put geothermal heat pumps in every home in the Mole Hill neighbourhood in Vancouver’s West End.
“That’s a wonderful, shining example of a sustainable community right in the middle of the big city,” he says. “It’s just a little oasis of how things should be done.”
When asked where he found his passion for this type of work, Mueller replies that he used to think that climate change would affect his children and grandchildren, but he never expected it to have an impact on him. However, his views shifted after witnessing how changes in the Arctic Ocean have eliminated seaside villages that he used to visit when he repaired refrigeration equipment up in the North. “Things are changing,” he notes. “I can physically see erratic weather. I think it’s born in me a need to do something.”
Over time, Mueller realized that no matter how much heat could be recovered from the earth, it wouldn’t address how much energy was being wasted by the occupants of the building disposing of hot water. So he created another company, Burnaby-based International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems Inc., to deal with this issue. According to Mueller, about 50 percent of household energy vanishes by flowing down drains in the form of hot water.
“If you get up every morning and you have a shower, you might put $2 a day down the drain,” he says. “All I’m doing is reaching in and getting that back for you. It’s my hand that’s getting dirty, not yours.”
The company achieves this with a thermal-heat recovery system that separates solids in the sewer system from water. Then the water is used as a heat source. This is accomplished with the help of a nonclogging sewage filter, which Mueller found in China. It’s part of a larger installation that’s about twice the size of the average home hot-water tank. And he claims that for every dollar spent on the system, it will recover $5 worth of heat.
“The key to sewage is that it’s nasty,” he comments. “The secret to this thing is it’s made so that you don’t have to deal with the nasty part of it.”
The City of Vancouver is already doing this with its neighbourhood energy utility at Southeast False Creek. The system’s pipes, which are shaped like a hand, are visible on the southeast side of the Cambie Street Bridge.
International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems installed its first thermal-heat recovery system in Adera’s 60-unit seven35 condominium project in North Vancouver. Situated next to the Trans Canada Trail, it’s the first development in Canada to be certified as both LEED Platinum and Built Green Gold.
Adera’s vice-president of marketing and sales, Eric Andreasen, told the Straight by phone that his company is working with Mueller to explore ways of creating more sustainable buildings. “We wanted to be innovators,” he says. “We thought this would be the ideal place to do it, in North Van, where there’s a lot of concern about sustainability.”
Andreasen adds that the company is going to include the thermal-heat recovery system in a new 172-unit residential project at UBC. And Mueller says he’s in discussions with a local municipality, which he won’t identify, to install a system there. The idea has caught the attention of former Toronto mayor David Miller, who sits on the advisory board of International Wastewater Heat Exchange Systems.
“We’re a small operation with big dreams,” Mueller says, noting that the company has just seven employees and contractors. “Over the next five years, our plan is to grow into a multimillion-dollar-sales organization and sell these right across North America.”
It’s called saving the world, one turd at a time.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.