Francisco Chozas
Fypasa Group
View from the Top

Biodigesters to Reduce Treatment Costs

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 09:55

Q: What opportunities did Fypasa identify in the operation of water-treatment plants?

A: In 1992, the Mexican government implemented a policy to build water (WTP) and wastewater-treatment plants (WWTP) under the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) framework for the first time. Before this, public-owned WTP and WWTP projects were undertaken through construction bids, and subsequently the engineering was carried out by consultants and did not include the plant’s operation, which was carried out by authorities. We identified the opportunity to transform from construction to BOT or turnkey (design, build and start up) projects. We shifted from a construction company to one that could also design and operate these plants.

Considering the opportunities that the new policy opened, we allied with GMD and won a bid to design, build and operate the Toluca WWTPs. We created two specialpurpose companies to operate each plant: Ecosys I for the North Toluca plant and Ecosys II for East Toluca. These WWTPs are a source of pride for us. They currently discharge 1,700L/s of treated wastewater into the Lerma River that eventually reaches Chapala Lake, which is one of the water supply sources for the city of Guadalajara.

Q: Which water or wastewater-treatment plants have posed the most difficult challenges for Fypasa?

A: The most challenging project was the industrial wastewatertreatment plant of Leon. The complexity of this project derives from the high amount of garbage and highly concentrated and dangerous pollutants that the tanneries of the local leather industry discharge into the sewerage system. Gerry Shell, one of our company’s consultants, labeled Leon’s wastewater “the mother of all wastewaters” because of its nature and concentration, and because of the difficulty of treating it. Another challenging project was the design, construction and operation of the Toluquilla WTP, which is the largest plant in Latin America removing arsenic, besides manganese and iron, and treating 1,000L/s of underground water in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara.

Q: What is Fypasa’s strategy for securing public contracts through the tender process?

A: Fypasa exists because of water. We are a highly specialized company that, through public bids, treats the potable water the country needs and cleans the wastewater the country produces. There is no secret to winning a bid. By rule, the most inexpensive, technical solution and applicable proposal must win. However, sometimes bids are won by companies that merely offer the lowest price. This leads to cheap projects but not necessarily to quality projects. Sometimes, fraudulent companies offer impossibly cheap proposals and then raise their prices upon winning, flee with the advance payment for the project, do not finish the work, or simply never build the plant. On the other hand, there are some large and economically powerful companies that can offer low prices but lack the technical expertise and support to build good, well-equipped treatment plants. Fypasa is a medium-sized company, but it has many years of experience and plenty of engineering expertise in the water and wastewater-treatment sector.

Q: What trends are on the horizon for water and wastewater treatment?

A: In terms of funding, the water infrastructure sector has experienced deep budget cuts in the last few years. Companies will start using PPP models to develop and operate WTPs and WWTPs. PPP models have not been applied in this sector but they soon will be. In terms of water problems that need to be solved, another key trend could be desalination plants, because in many regions of the country it is not feasible to provide water in any other way. Using biodigesters to produce biogas from the residual sludge of a WWTP for power and heat generation would be a common way to reduce the operational costs of many medium and large-sized WWTPs. Indeed, Fypasa is doing this at the Leon WWTP and will also soon begin performing this operation at the Hermosillo WWTP.