As WPL is granted another process patent for biological wastewater treatment, technical director Andrew Baird shares insights on what is involved and why it matters in terms of innovation.

WPL has been granted a patent for its cutting-edge WPL Hybrid-SAFTM process technology.

The patented technology employs a submerged moving-bed, fixed-film reactor which can treat wastewater with greater energy efficiency compared to traditional submerged aerated filters (SAFs), in a tighter site footprint whilst meeting environmental compliance.

A key advantage is that it can be retrofitted into any vessel, regardless of shape or size, to deliver more efficient wastewater processing.

In granting the patent, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has recognized that the technology is new and is not being used anywhere else. WPL has demonstrated this is an innovative step, that it is moving the product forward.

Specifically, the process patent relates to the way wastewater is made to recirculate within the biozone and how we can get an even distribution of flow across the media. WPL is doing this in a way that has not been done before.

 

Ariel view of WPL’s Hybrid-SAF™ modular treatment system retrofitted in to a repurposed vessel at a Wessex Water site

Patent Prepping

The technology was in continuous development for three years, and the patent process took more than two years. Extra investment and product adjustments were required to get it patent-ready – and, commercially, the numbers had to add up. There is little point patent-protecting if nobody is going to buy the product.

Once it has been decided to take a patent forward, a lot of effort goes into writing the abstracts and application.  It then goes to the IPO, which reviews and comments, and it goes back and forth for a while until it is eventually granted.

This procedure is fairly time-consuming and can take anything up to five years. The good thing is that as soon as you file the status is recognised as patent-pending and you are protected.

Financial benefit

There are a number of benefits to going down the patent route. There is a patent tax relief, which equates to five to six percent of profits for the product, so it is definitely worthwhile from a financial perspective.

But, of course, the protection offered is the biggest driver. We see it as a ‘keep off the grass’ sign and expect companies not to breach the patent.  We also think that the idea of having a patented product is appealing to customers.

Continual development

WPL is continually looking at how it can develop the technology further and has sponsored a PhD student to research more opportunities and enhanced efficiencies. This signals the company’s wholehearted commitment to and investment in on-going research and development.

In terms of technology refinement, we are now focusing on delivery techniques and ways of making WPL Hybrid-SAF even quicker to install. The modular system requires a fraction of the time on site of traditional treatment process, but any measure that can reduce onsite time is beneficial. We are working to make it truly plug-and-play.

Value from innovation

In terms of return on investment, the Hybrid-SAF process technology is proving its worth.

It is a significant part of WPL’s business to invest in research and development, and innovation. There is always a risk, but the successful outcomes of our patent applications demonstrates that the investment is all worthwhile.

WPL’s Hybrid-SAF™ process technology installed at a Untied Utilities site – containment units GRP with a steel exoskeleton