In Conversation with Christian Ryen, COO & Co-founder at Pharem Biotech
Pharem Biotech is one of the most exciting companies in the water industry. With its broad biotechnology expertise, the team behind the company is creating innovative enzymatic products to effectively remove organic pollutants from water.
Over time, Pharem’s research has culminated in the implementation of practical, sustainable solutions for industrial wastewater treatment, municipal water treatment facilities as well as products for everyday household use.
To fully understand the Pharem's range of products, the team's capabilities, and vision, we talked to Christian Ryen , co-founder of the company.
Christian has a background in Chemical Engineering, Industrial Economics and before Pharem, he spent many years developing company strategies and procedures.
Today he is the Chief Operating Officer at Pharem.
THE WATER NETWORK: Pharem is a relatively young biotech company, what is your vision for the company and how did you come to co-found it?
CHRISTIAN RYEN : Our vision is to develop applications and solutions so that everyone (industries, municipals, and the public) can contribute to reducing the release of organic micropollutants to our water environments.
By supplying the market with cost-efficient applications, we make use of enzymes to degrade organic pollutants. Already today our applications compete with alternate/older technologies. By using the enzymes catalytic effects, we are not bound to single mechanisms and can be very flexible in terms of water environments and target substances.
Pharem is more of a clean-tech company which utilizes our broad biotechnology expertise and at the same time has in-depth knowledge about water treatment by using enzymes. The platform technology allows great flexibility to meet client needs for simple, effective solutions to tackle serious environmental issues within their operational scope.
The team behind Pharem shares a strong passion for water and is dedicated to problem-solving. We saw opportunities in combing different fields of expertise and use this for developing applications for the treatment of water.
The company journey started when one of the co-founders developed a cost-efficient method of how to combine biotechnology, immobilization technologies, process design and apply this to different water environments for the treatment of antibiotics. Today the scope is much wider, where we focus on the treatment of many water environments such as effluents from municipal wastewater treatment plants, industry effluents or processes and at upstream environments.
TWN: What is PFS, how does it work and what benefits does it provide compared to other offerings on the wastewater treatment market?
CR: PFS is our water treatment technology for municipal and industrial processes. Here we immobilize enzymes to a filter matrix and apply this to a column-design. When the water passes through the column and filter material, the enzymes degrade the pollutants.
Pharem is application-focused, which is a bit different from other enzyme-focused companies. We combine our expertise to approach the challenges with organic micropollutants in a way that the industry hasn´t really done before. Our approach stretches from how we develop our enzymes for use in our applications, to application design and ultimately to our business models. As far as we know, we are unique when it comes to using enzymes the way we do it to treat organic micropollutants, in, for example, municipal water treatment plants (WTTP:s).
When looking into water treatment steps there are several other technologies/alternatives available as so-called “polishing” steps. The most commonly used being Ozonation and Active Carbon.
Some of the more relevant benefits of PFS is, but not limited to, following:
Low CAPEX: Our business model is designed so that the system is generally given for free to the customers.
Low OPEX: Already in its cradle, PFS can compete with alternative technologies when it comes to operational costs.
Full-service solutions: All customers get the opportunity to have a full-service solution, where we partner up with service organizations to make the operation of the system as smooth as possible. Many medium and small WWTPs like this approach since they normally don´t have the infrastructure to handle many other technologies.
Adaptable and not bound to single purification/treatment mechanisms: Since PFS can bind many different enzymes to the matrix, the system can combine different mechanisms. Many technologies are bound to single mechanisms, limiting the effect of these technologies toward many pollutants.
No added safety precautions to already existing procedures: Based on known mechanisms, the installed system brings no “new” risks to the site as many other technologies can do. The installation and operation of PFS is considered to have a low (or very low) impact on already existing operations.
Broad application of technology improvements: The treatment is mainly connected to the filter material, which is replaced in the system according to a maintenance plan. This makes it possible to continuously apply technology improvements to all installations without the need for costly rebuilds or changes. When an upgrade has been made to the filter material it can be introduced into the already existing supply-chain and be delivered to already installed systems.
Pharem Filtration System (PFS) is an enzymatic filtration system for Wastewater Treatment Facilities. All images ©Pharem
TWN: Why did you choose to focus on PFS and enzymes?
CR : The use of enzymes in industrial processes is a well-established field. However, Pharem identified that we have merely touched upon the capacity using enzymes within wastewater treatment. We saw a great opportunity to combine our expertise in biotechnology and immobilization methods to create solutions for the ever-growing concern regarding organic micropollutants in water environments
Enzymes are considered as our platform technology and core in all our applications. Continuous development of enzymes and how to apply them on water environments is, therefore, the company's main focus.
The initial plans for developing PFS came from analyzing the market. Early on Pharem decided to not only focus on being a technology owner (where we would only focus on enzyme development) but also applying the technology to where it is needed the most. Municipal WWTPs can be considered being the “last stand” before the pollutants are released to Nature. Our goal with PFS was to present a new treatment system that has great future potential by using enzymes.
TWN: Can you tell us more about the range of enzymatic products in your catalog? Moreover, why did you choose to focus on household products such as pCure? What is this little “environmental hero” bringing new to the market?
CR : Pharem identified three major areas which can be considered the main source of organic micropollutants. This resulted in our initial focus when it comes to enzyme development and application design.
Industry processes and effluents
This has resulted in two Product groups with 5 products
PFS Municipal: Our standard solution for municipal WWTP:s for the treatment of a broad range of organic micropollutants such as pesticide, pharmaceutical residues and so on.
PFS Industry: Our platform technology allows us to offer tailored solutions based on the needs of our industry customers. Here we can create a very cost-efficient treatment solution which many times lower the handling costs of wastewater which are polluted by (normally) a few compounds.
Home: To be used by anyone to contribute to remove pharmaceutical residues
Business: For companies that are looking for creative sustainability initiatives.
Healthcare: For the healthcare sector in general.
pCure collection of household products that can remove selected environmentally hazardous pharmaceutical residues.
CR : pCure is an amazing product which was developed to allow anyone to contribute to reducing the release of harmful pharmaceutical residues to the environment. As we can´t ask people to stop using medicines, we transformed an existing product concept to something new and added our technology to it. With pCure we created a natural release of enzymes from doing what many already do daily, using the toilet. This was the basic ideas for “making the toilet our environmental hero”.
The ideas of developing a household product that harnesses the power of enzymes came to us early in the company history but were realized a bit later than PFS. We learned that up to 80% of the pharmaceutical residues that reaches our water environments comes from our consumption of medicines. The active ingredients in the medicine (API´s) is not completely degraded in our bodies and will through excrements travel from the toilet from our homes, offices or other facilities into the sewers. A large percentage of the society is not connected to a municipal WWTPs, which highlights the need to be able to make local initiatives. The once that are connected to the municipal sewers may be connected to a WWTP that are not able to effectively treat the wastewater from these pollutants. Untreated API´s will eventually end up in Nature where they start causing harm.
The sewers are considered to be an unused opportunity for water treatment where many technologies are too expensive to apply without pre-treatment. Enzymes can survive in harsh environments and have an effect on targeted substances until they themselves are naturally degraded.
Pharem believes that in order to get results we need to combine the efforts from different parts of the society. All companies should, if they have the opportunity, develop applications and products that make it possible for as many as possible to be part of reducing our impact on Nature.
With pCure we have shown that you can create household products, which still meets customer needs (such as fragrance etc.) where you add beneficial functionalities that contribute to reducing the release of organic micropollutants.
TWN: Last summer, Pharem was granted EU funding as part of the Horizon 2020 project which requires the installation of PFS in operational environments at four locations worldwide. How far have you come with this objective?
CR : The EU project is mainly connected to the Municipal version of PFS. We are well on our way and is entering a new phase in the project. Several modules of the PFS system will be installed and demonstrated on the selected demonstration sites the coming year. When we feel ready, we will start inviting to demonstrate the installations and take a deeper dive into the technology together with future customers and partners.
TWN: Where would you like the company to be in the next two years?
CR : As we move forward we will see an increase in demand for removing organic micropollutants from water environments. Not only because we connect the release of organic compounds to negative effects on wildlife, but we also see negative effects on human health and our wellbeing.
Within the coming two years Pharem has grown their team with new colleagues and partner to establish themselves in new markets. Together with customers in both the municipal, industry and consumer market we have successfully reduced the release of organic micropollutants.
That would be all for now. Thank you, Christian, for the thorough introduction into the world of Pharem Biotech.
For more information visit Pharem and pCure websites.
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by The Water Network