Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

  • hajo
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Re: Reply: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Harry, welcome to the club!

Hi Dean,

Thanks for taking your time proposing another design for the upscaled vermi-filter. We currently look at three different designs: the stacks of fruit crates, the upright HDPE culvert pipes and the concrete/block box with the drainage cell panels (your last post).

If we plan designing a (scalable) VC filter for community use, I feel the fruit crates are still the best solution. Let me try to summarise the pros and cons:

Fruit crates:
• The filter structure only requires the crates, windbreak cloth, media, wall sheathing and roof;
• The structure is easily set up, adjusted in size or set-up, and easily maintained;
• Looks professional;
• Fruit crates may not be easily available and may be expensive (compared to second-hand DIY material but not compared to ‘state of the art’ standard designs).

HDPE culverts:
• 600mm culvert with slotted pipes inside provides only 0.15m2 effective filter area, thus, many more culverts are needed than fruit crates providing the required filter area;
• Culverts can only be filled with media once they are in position and I wonder how the media can eventually be maintained/exchanged if necessary;
• Setting up multiple culverts with slotted pipes inside, plastic mesh and windbreak cloth inside a 3m long, 600mm culvert is not as easy as the fruit crates with windbreak cloth inside only.

Box with drainage panels (described in Dean’s last posting):
• Once it is built it cannot be adjusted in size if found necessary;
• As for culverts, the fixing of the panels covered with windbreak cloth to a depth of 3 (or 4) m and at 60cm distance will not be easy;
• As for culverts, the maintenance and exchange of media will be difficult (if not impossible) unless the whole inside structure of the box is removed;
• The costs of this alternative are mostly in the outside wall structure which makes it not necessarily economical.

As said, I still tend to the fruit crates if we can get them in Rwanda. They may not be the cheapest solution (of the 3), but I rather look for functionality, including adaptability and maintenance as well as ‘looks’. Because I assume that any of above solution will be cheaper than the ‘state of the art’ standard design, we must choose the most ‘professional’ solution convincing partner and financier.

I know, Dean, this is not what you are aiming at but please consider that (at this stage) we are not designing household facilities but community size infrastructure which must be appreciated by water & sanitation administrators and be financed by international development banks. And I need your professional input designing them right.

We will come to designing household facilities, those to be financed by banks and those to be built by the users… 😊

Dean, what do you pay for the fruit crates in NZ?

Ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
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Re: Reply: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi all,

In a parallel thread discussion about compost toilets, Geoff Hill presents two research papers which look at the destruction of ascaris in VC digesters . The result of this research is that vermi-digestion does not destruct ascaris, which is in contradiction to other researches done earlier by Eastman and Boxmann and which are quoted in these two papers.

If this research by Hill et al. is proved correct, it means that humus from VC digesters cannot be used without restrictions or without further treatment. For the time being we must assume this.

I have also contacted Prof. Sinha (see author of this thread) because his research indicated that the humus from VC treatment would be fully safe. He now concedes that the humus may require additional treatment getting rid of the ascaris.

Because I anticipate that under our conditions multi-barrier approaches (use of humus only for fruit trees, windrowing of humus before further use) may not be observed, the humus leaving the VC TP must be safe! Here I agree with Joe who voiced similar concerns in the above mentioned thread.

Which is the most economical treatment destructing the ascaris in the humus? I read about urea and ash treatment, which would require additional input materials. Another possibility can be heating the humus to above 40C or higher for a given time (the hotter, the shorter, sun drying?). Any comments on these two alternatives? Or any other proposal? Don’t forget that we discuss about ‘central’ community VC TP not about household applications!

Ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • goeco
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Re: Reply: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Hajo, 

The fruit bins cost about $250 here in New Zealand, with a capacity of approximately 0.7 m3, or over $300 per cubic metre of capacity, which would be fine for the domestic setting but is quite high for the community scale.

I'd like to suggest that the drainage panel option doesn't actually need a "box". I don't see sides and roof as necessary. The panels could be set up as a robust and durable modular structure using cable ties. The main cost would be labour, tying the panels together as a framework or scaffold. Once the framework is constructed a textile "sock" would be lowered into each cavity, then filled with media. The whole unit could even be deconstructed if necessary and then put back together. In terms of maintenance, I don't believe there is any maintenance apart from topping up the media, checking for influent blockages (if you use nozzles) and eventually removing surplus humus from the top of vermifilter modules. 

What the drainage panels offer is a very low cost option for aerating the media, perhaps not much more than $50 per cubic metre of capacity, my choice for a developing country.

For secondary treatment I don't think you'd be concerned with vermin, but if cockroaches took a liking to the secondary treatment environment you could wrap the structure in netting. Rain wouldn't be a problem because you are building upwards, therefore rainfall per cubic metre of capacity is minimised. 

cheers
Dean

Dean Satchell, M For. Sc.
Vermifilter.com
www.vermifilter.com
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  • hajo
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Re: Reply: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

;) ;) ;) ;)

Hi Dean,

I like it how you are always concerned about low cost solutions for developing countries... and I will think about how I can clad your latest proposal nicely so it does not look so much DIY... and I like the proposal, it may be feasible...

I want to emphasis again that at the beginning when we want to convince partners and financiers, the technology must look as professional and 'shiny' as possible. Once the technology is accepted by the authorities (local governments, W&S utilities, banks) and we want to upscale it (not necessarily making bigger but spreading to more users), we will need cheaper solutions, most likely even to the level that households build their own VC facilities. Then we will definitely come back to all your good proposals.

For promotion it must not be as cheap as possible - which may be even contra-productive - but only be cheaper than standard, state-of-art technologies....

I found the fruit crates on the internet in 0.7m3 from China/India at 80 to 100 USD per piece. We have to find out at what price they can be produced locally, the machines should be here as for producing water tanks, thus 'only' the forms are needed for rotary moulding.

ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • goeco
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Hajo, I have given your posts some thought and have also waited for others to contribute. Seems there isn't much life in the susana forum, which is a real shame given the plight of so many developing nations to undertake basic sanitation that avoids infection... especially with respect to such easily controlled pathogens such as round worms, where the cycle just needs breaking. I'm not familiar with conditions in Rwanda but I understand wages are very low, and we all know that sanitation does cost money, perhaps the biggest obstacle? Faeces in the environment (open defecation) means helminth re-infection in humans, as does using faecal sludge for fertilising gardens growing vegetables to be consumed raw, or handling raw sludge without wearing gloves. I'm not sure whether centrally treated sewage sludge (from a conventional larger plant) poses such risk, but there may be risk around disposing of that sludge in Rwanda if not wind-rowed, composted and rested?

So the first world solution is to "nuke" the contaminated mass, to kill all pathogens. A bit like Donald Trump wanting to nuke hurricanes, that'll sort them. This could be achieved by such means as well controlled composting to ensure all compost has been treated via thermophilic means. Other solutions may include solar heating or urea/ash treatment. To be successful these methods become specialised and higher cost to be foolproof and guaranteed. The black box, on the other hand, fixes everything - the contaminated sludge goes in one end and out the other, so that it's foolproof and safe. But is this really the best solution for developing countries? Why is the easiest and low cost method (time) out of the question? Because poor people will "cheat" and in desperation put contaminated compost in their vegetable garden and thereby not break the helminth cycle? So is it really not possible to address this as a cultural issue?

I don't believe expensive solutions will work in poor countries. Most of the black box contraptions Bill Gates is funding won't apply to poor communities... foolproof sanitation, flush and forget, but at a high cost. But for poor communities, surely cultural change, being free, could accompany low cost technological solutions - moving from open defecation and pits and even septic tanks into technological solutions that work, but that depend on behaviour change. Is it too much to ask that communities take charge of their own health and let faecal humus rest for a prescribed time before using in vegetable gardens? Or that a community treatment plant has prescribed rest periods for wind-rowed faecal humus after removal from the digester, before it can be taken away? Or that workers handling faecal humus must wear gloves? What would the community itself prefer? Low cost solutions that involve simple procedures to follow, or expensive black box solutions?

cheers
Dean

Dean Satchell, M For. Sc.
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Dean,

I do not fully agree that there is not much life in SuSanA: membership is constantly increasing and every month there are between 15 and 25,000 posts. It may be that vermi-culture hasn’t received the attention yet, which it deserves also in my opinion. But we are working on it, isn’t it?

Money is definitely a problem in sanitation in Africa. In general users don’t want to spend on constructing a toilet – a new smartphone is always more ‘sexy’ and don’t want to pay for sanitation services neither for collection from on-site facilities nor for sewer charges if they are connected. It is one big obstacle.

Another problem is the ignorance of people regarding pathogens in sanitation. Why do not all school toilets in Africa have hand washing facilities? Why do people dig shallow wells even in vicinity of pit latrines and even when piped water is available? Why is the highest incidence of cholera in an African city just around the central wastewater treatment plants? Is it partially financial desperation and partially ignorance?

Behaviour change is the most difficult thing to achieve. And especially in sanitation where the consequences of behaviour change are not felt immediately. If I touch a hot pot, I burn my fingers, thus I won’t do it again. If I touch a dirty toilet (and don’t wash my fingers before eating), I get sick a day later: I don’t even know that it is related to that toilet visit. If a farmer fertilises his carrots with effluent from the central wastewater treatment plant, the customers of his customers get cholera. The farmer does not know it, the consumers don’t know what the farmer used. Germans needed almost 20 years (1964 to 1984) to accept the use of safety belts when driving and only accepted it once stiff penalties were introduced for not wearing belts.

Therefore, I agree a bit to the approach trying to ‘nuke’ the pathogens. Unfortunately, also vermi-culture does not kill ascaris – which I had so much hoped for. Because of the desperation, the ignorance, the wrong behaviour, and the greed of people, we have to try our best, that humus and effluent which leaves the community treatment plant is as safe as possible for reuse. And we only need one more step after the vermi-culture (digester and filter) to achieve this! Which one?

This applies to community treatment plants where septage from septic tanks and humus from VC household toilets are being processed for public sale and reuse. In community TP the operator has the responsibility that pathogens from single households (not every ‘supplier’ is infected) are not spread by the reuse of VC humus and effluent.

This may be seen a bit different where households reuse their own humus and effluent. Here the pathogens are ‘recycled’ within the same group of people. And they can observe, maybe learn and improve and start using the same precautions which you use: windrowing, humus only at trees, under-ground percolation, or else. If I remember well even the official (WHO?) safety requirements for household reuse of faecal matter are lower than for ‘public’ reuse.

I think we must adapt our ideas, judgements and solutions to the different tasks: household sanitation, decentralised systems and central sewers may require different approaches also if they are all build on VC.

Ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • Heiner
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hajo,
you mentioned a few ideas which are very interesting for me. As an organic farmer I think in rotations and in subarid climates I can't imagine food production without hedgerows or windbrakes (agroforestry of all different kinds). So here is the place to use compost of "second quality". The cutoffs of these plants can be used as mulch, feed or compost material depending of the pathogens remained in the organic stuff and the needs of the farm.

From managing a little aquaponic system I know that the big plants use UV lights for sterilisation. I wonder if there is a chance to use natural UV radiation in liquid substrates (not compost of course)when exposed to the sun???

Using the elements (drought, heat, sun), changing aerobic and anaerobic conditions and a rich biology (humus quality and quantity) in the soil should put up a cascade of deadly environments for the pathogens. Thats how nature works and we can assist ;-)
I think the fields/gardens where the output is used must be a part of the crack down chain. Though a fairly strict management is required.
Ciao

Heiner, the old farmer.....
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Heiner,

to start with your last sentence, a Ghanaian friend once said to me: what we miss most in Ghana is maintenance and management.

Reading your post, i feel we have to go a long way trying to understand each other and finding the links between your and my 'profession' between your and my ‘dreams’.

I am a water & sanitation engineer. My latest ambition is finding solutions through this discussion to improve (human excreta) sanitation at various levels, i.e.

• for wastewater treatment plants of centralised sewer systems
• for de-centralised small scale sewer systems at institutions and housing estates,
• for faecal sludge treatment works in communities for septage and FS
• for household toilets in small towns and peri-urban areas

I have learned that human excreta SHOULD NEVER be regarded as waste but IS a resource and MUST be brought back on the land and into the soil. And vermi-culture may be one technology which can possibly help to achieve this. I need your advice what has to be observed with this technology to make the best possible use of human excreta for agriculture.

Vermi-culture alone will not make perfect organic farming and that is not even my aim … but yours. You may have to add a number of other 'ingredients' or 'processes' to put into practice organic farming. But you can advise me/us how vermi-culture should work best to contribute its share to organic farming.

Ciao Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • Heiner
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Hajo,

I don't agree: the way to understand each other is not very long. Actually I think we are very close.

As I understand mother nature works in a circle like this:
Producers (plants and other organism able for photosynthesis)
Consumers (Animals, people)
Destruents (bacterias, (your) worms, fungi a.s.o.).
I see two reasons why we took the people out of this circle. One are the different forms of pathogens and the other are the thousands of non degradable synthetic products. And here in Germany the authorities are proud to burn the sludge of the sewage plants! Not realising it is a big loss in terms of humus. Not realising it is "slash and burn" in an industrialised country and takes us any right to blame Bolsonaro for burning the Amazonas.
When I was young it was common to offer the sludge from the cities to the farmers. And we took it because of the benefits I don't have to explain here.
I know only little about pathogens, thats your job and I hope to find help here when I need.
We both can do little about the roundabout 1000 endokrine disruptors we have in the environment by know. The good news are it becomes more difficult for the Bayers the Roches, the Mercks, the Sanofis and so on to get new non degradable products on the market. In Europe it is result of the REACH agreement some years back. As far as I know.
What I know as a farmer is: I need the leftovers from the 7 or 8 billion people to keep the soil fertil in a sustainable way. One of the most common scientist in organic farming in europe told me he estimates a yield increase of 20 to 30% in organic farming if we do so! Funny part: due to the ifoam rules we could the products not call "organic" any longer. But I really don't care.
As a farmer I can use sludge, urine or feces. Or a mixture. It is up to the local sanitation system. Your job to find the best local way ;-)

To me urine feeds the plants and feces feed the soil. The humus content is of highest importance for a farmer who does not buy any mineral fertilisers (low input farming). And so is the shit of your worms. In agriculture we talk about clay-humus-complexes which are a stable basic for fertility and which are produced on the field as well, when enough feed and water in the soil. And temperature is suitable, of course.

But there is another possibility to use the energy in the feces: biogas. So if you sanitation guys built a biogas plant it is okay for me too. The minerals are not destroyed in a plant only a little part of the ammonium is lost. But: CH4 means C is taken out of the system because of the gas production. As a result the C which is needed for the carbon cycle to keep or improve the Humus content, is lost. There is a argument going on on this topic since years. But this is not of importance for our questions here because we talk about a today not used resource.

Back to your post: to me there is no such thing like waste in nature. We have to close the circles as mentioned above.
I come here (and wherever I show up) as a farmer and accept the offers you sanitation guys make. A healthy soil needs feed and is able (at least can help) to crack down organic stuff of all types. Heavy metals (not the music) must be measured and calculated but is not really complicated as I know from producing baby food.

As a farmer I finally need an analysis of the product of you sanitation guys. And then I call some wise guys and we decide where to put this quality: very bad (full of pathogens) only for windbreaks, medium quality perhaps fruit trees and good quality veggies.

This is all simplified, I know that. I just wanted to show you the frame of my thoughts.

Hajo, I think we are not too far away.

Have a nice day!

Heiner, the old farmer.....
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  • hajo
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

dear all,

before responding to Heiner's latest post, i want to inform readers of this thread about the value of our forum: it is through the forum that we learned of a project being implemented under the name RUNRES (Rural and Urban Nexus Resilience) in Rwanda and in three other African countries.

One focus of the project is closing the loop between sanitation and agriculture/nutrition, the same as our vermi-culture endeavors discussed in this thread. I have made contact with RUNRES and we had already a first meeting where we noticed that we really should collaborate trying to close the loop.

We will continue reporting on our activities under this thread but want to make you aware that you will also find interesting information about closing the loop and beyond sanitation under the RUNRES thread.

ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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  • goeco
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Hajo, 
Maybe education should accompany step changes? Here in NZ we have fines for not wearing seatbelts and occasionally I still don't put one on. But perhaps I behave this way because although I am aware of the need, I choose to take risk. I am aware of the risk, as opposed to those who are unaware of the ascaris cycle and therefore cannot choose to break it?

Whether vermi-culture kills ascaris is not the question. I wouldn't expect the degradation process itself to kill ascaris, but once degraded to humus the ascaris has a very limited life. What has not been established is the time it takes for helminths to die in vermi-humus. Here is the opportunity for you to pioneer both the methods (cost/treatment effectiveness) of community-scale vermifiltration, but also to test and define the resulting products as an outcome of your project. The result would be the length of time required to rest faecal humus to be safe. That time may be more than one year, perhaps less. Taking into account the very low capital costs, this initial research would provide an informed decision point on whether to further scale the technology, based on a test case where the required behaviour change did or didn't take place. How important would that result be to humanity? The technology is low cost... but can poor communities adapt to it and break the helminth cycle? What is required for your community to best utilise the technology?

In terms of the most valuable product, the treated wastewater, this can be rendered safe for immediate use, nutrient-rich irrigation water, using vermifiltration. Because this makes plants grow so well it has value, provided land is available close to the treatment plant and the right crops were established. The nutrient loop is an essential component and must not be ignored. Vermifiltration doesn't produce treated effluent suitable for discharging to waterways, it is too rich in nutrients. I haven't yet seen a better method to close that loop.

cheers
Dean

Dean Satchell, M For. Sc.
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  • hajo
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Re: Promote VERMIFILTRATION Technology for WASTEWATER PURIFICATION by EARTHWORMS to produce clean water

Hi Heiner,

We are not far away in such that we both think that the loop between sanitation and agriculture must be closed … the difference being that we (SuSanA) strive for sustainable sanitation and you for organic farming. Our major goals are quite different, and it has to be seen whether we will be able to close the loop between the two. The focus of our thinking is different. And the question is how much I will have to understand of agriculture, how much you will have to understand of sanitation, so that we will be able close the loop successfully.

I don’t think that humans have been excluded from the circle because of specific pathogens and non-degradable products mixed into the wastewater. I guess that in 1860 when sewers were built in Hamburg, it just seemed being the most efficient way of getting human waste out of town. Nobody considered that this technology deprives agriculture of nutrients and instead pollutes rivers and lakes with these nutrients.

If I understand your posts and contributions well, your motivation is trying to get away from industry driven agriculture which uses to much chemicals to increase yields and rather turn to natural methods of organic farming. And you can imagine that bringing human excreta back onto the fields could be one such method. I hope that a possible collaboration between WASAC and RUNRES as indicated in my above posting may show ways how to bridge the gap between sanitation and agriculture and bring human excreta safely onto fields of small-scale farmers in Africa.

Ciao
Hajo

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
Albert Einstein
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of a genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
E.F. Schumacher
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. :-)
Albert Einstein
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