Malaysian rivers in bad state: Ronser CEO

Green technology is the way to go, Ronser Bio-Tech’s Pua Eng Teck tells LIM WING HOOI, in view of the appalling state of Malaysian rivers and the potential of bio-gas from oil palm.

Rivers are vital to the well-being of whole communities, whether indigenious people who rely on them for navigation and fishing, rural folks for agriculture, or city dwellers for whom rivers are a critical source of water for drinking and washing, commerce and industry.

According to Dr Pua Eng Teck, chief executive officer of Ronser Bio-Tech Bhd, only 27 per cent of rivers in Malaysia can be considered healthy, with 63 per cent polluted and the remaining 10 per cent classified as “dead”. Dead as in unable to support any life.

Undoubtedly, Malaysians have to rethink their relationship with rivers, which tend to be viewed as big flowing rubbish dumps. But that’s easier said than done. In the interim, Pua says his company — which specialises in engineering, design and commissioning of water treatment plants — is looking at providing water treatment solutions with its patented water treatment technologies.

Malaysian rivers are in a bad state, with 63 considered polluted and the remaining 10 classified as “dead, says Pua.

“A river strewn with rubbish is an eyesore, but even after removing the physical waste, there’s another concern — the harmful chemicals and minerals, such as ammonia, ferrous sulphate and manganese, are still there,” Pua says at Ronser’s corporate office in Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya.

The company, formed in 2008, proposes the use of the “mass biosystem” solution, which Pua describes as a bio-membrane, water-treatment technology that removes such impurities. The company has a pilot plant in Subang Mewah, Petaling Jaya, which serves to demonstrate the efficacy of its solution.

Consultant Jamaitul Lailah Mohd Jais, engaged by Ronser for her expertise in domestic wastewater and sewage treatment, says it’s vital to address, for example, the problem of ammonia in rivers, especially in view of plans to increase food production by using rivers for aquaculture activities.

“Treatment at source is vital but not always done. But we are also looking at doing intermediate treatment such as in squatter areas, illegal factories and places where there are littering by the people,” she says.

Lee explaining how the company’s technology works.

Jamaitul explains that the technology involves what’s called “suspended growth”, where bacteria in a biofilm in an aeration tank are able to grow faster and become more efficient in reducing the pollutants.

When Ronser started, the first thing the management did was to acquire the patented technology. They also bought a company in China with clients mainly in the food and beverage manufacturing industries. The move seems to have paid off.

To date, they have completed over 50 projects in China.

The startup funds for Ronser came from more than 50 shareholders, who Pua says “believed in the technology and are still investing, with over RM50mil ploughed in so far, with cashflow supported by the projects in China.”

Currently the company is finalising a few potential domestic projects in Malaysia.

Pua says Ronser has technical advisors in its ranks, with some appointed as directors. Their areas of specialty include molecular biology, environmental engineering, aquaculture and forestry.

Engineer Vivian Lee Jiun Joo explains that apart from providing waste-water treatment solutions, the company also specialises in bio-gas plants. Waste water or palm oil mill effluent (POME) produced in the palm oil extraction process is used to produce bio-gas in these plants.

Consultant Jamaitul says it’s important to address the problem of ammonia in waterways, especially if we’re to increase food production by using rivers for aquaculture activities.

Ronser currently operates a pilot plant in Labu, Negri Sembilan as a part of their R&D programmes.

“The Malaysian Government is encouraging the palm oil industry to reduce its carbon footprint, and they are required to install bio-gas systems by year 2020,” Lee notes.

Lee points out that bio-gas technology has been around for more than 20 years, but Ronser’s pilot plant in Labu has shown that installing bio-gas generators (procured from other manufacturers) and using them concurrently with the company’s waste-water treatment plant allows one to capture and utilise the bio-gas produced by the anaerobic digestor (from the water treatment plant) to generate electricity.

The power generated can run the entire plant. This naturally reduces the carbon footprint of the palm oil industry, Lee adds.

In Europe, Lee says, most bio-gas plants use energy crop (plant grown as a low-cost and low-maintenance harvest used to make biofuels) to generate bio-gas, but they are not necessary in Malaysia where POME shows great potential.

Lee says the bio-gas produced can be used for power production or it can be upgraded to compress natural gas (CNG) for gas grid injection.

“Malaysia has a growing palm oil industry, and there is huge potential for it to become the new oil-and-gas sector as it could generate huge quantity of gas from this technology alone,” she points out.

There are endless opportunities for the technology’s application, and Pua says Ronser is at the right time and place to capitalise on it. Population growth is putting more pressure on the eco-system, and as such the need for clean water is rising. Housing developers, factories municipalities are among the company’s potential clients.

“The technology is scalable, and we plan to engage with infrastrucutre development companies in the Asean region,” announces Lee, adding that they are now in negotiations with Singapore’s Public Utility Board.

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