Inside Cambrian’s water-as-a-service financing model (17:00)
GreenBiz senior writer Heather Clancy spoke to Matt Silver, founder and CEO of Cambrian, about the company’s innovative financing model called a water-energy purchase agreement (WEPA). Cambrian will install and operate wastewater treatment systems on a customer’s behalf over the lifetime of the contract.
Producing a single gallon of wine, from grapes to bottling (not including vineyard demands), typically requires six gallons of water, depending upon winery-specific procedures. And since they’re located in the most populated and highest water-consuming state in the nation, Californian winemakers have felt mounting environmental and economic pressures to reduce consumption and reuse wastewater.
California wineries relying on new forms of wastewater technology are hoping treatment innovations will slow the shipment of water away from their businesses and their regions.
EcoVolt, a bioelectric wastewater system from Cambrian Innovation, is one technologies soaking up media attention lately. Already used “by big-name Sonoma County breweries,” the technology is now “spilling over into the Napa wine industry,” the Napa Valley Register reported.
A wastewater treatment solution used by big-name Sonoma County breweries is spilling over into the Napa wine industry, with the prospect of reducing the shipment of wastewater out of county for treatment.
Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena will be the first Napa winery to adopt the EcoVolt, a bioelectric wastewater system from Cambrian Innovation. The Boston-based company announced the partnership Tuesday. Already sporting a roster of brewery clients including Lagunitas, Bear Republic and Russian River, the company’s pairing with Rombauer may be the first of many with Napa wine producers.
Winery Uses Cambrian’s Technology to Treat Wastewater Onsite, Generate Clean Energy and Increase Operational Savings
Napa Valley-based Rombauer Vineyards will be the first winery to install Cambrian Innovation’s EcoVolt, which will allow Rombauer to treat its wastewater onsite while generating renewable energy and enabling future reuse of the winery’s treated process water.
Water is a top concern for many California wineries and breweries, which face both limited water supply for productionand restrictions for wastewater discharge.
Rombauer says Cambrian’s EcoVolt will help it meet these challenges and further reduce its water-to-wine ratio. Using the system, the winery can treat its entire wastewater stream onsite while generating up to 30 kW of renewable electricity and heat.
About 50 miles north of San Francisco, a brewery is quietly using a new type of technology, originally created to be used on a space station, to clean 50,000 gallons of dirty wastewater a day and generate energy in the process.
At the back of the brewery of Lagunitas Brewing Company, in Petaluma, Calif., three large shipping containers house an unusual design of electrically-charged microbes that consume pollutants in beer wastewater and generate usable biogas. The technology was created by an MIT-spinout called Cambrian Innovation, which is beginning to grow its customer list considerably in Northern California.
One of the most common observations fielded by wastewater treatment startup Cambrian Innovation after sales visits with prospective customers: “If you could only install this and operate this for us, we’d be ready to go.”
Founder and CEO Matt Silver took those comments to heart. Over the past six years, he quietly hired a team of financial whizzes to figure out how to make it far simpler to buy his company’s EcoVolt technology, a system that cleans industrial wastewater and converts the recovered materials into renewable biogas.
The result: a financing model that borrows from the principles of the power purchase agreements that many corporate renewable buyers are using to invest in solar and wind power resources. Cambrian calls its financing option a water-energy purchase agreement, or WEPA, if you prefer. It launched a $30 million fund in late 2015 to invest in the idea.
Why buy when you can lease? Over the years, makers of everything from sewing machines to SUVs have relied on this type of pay-as-you-go financing to spur sales. The entrepreneur who pioneered the no-money-down formula for rooftop solar systems now wants to help spread it to other cleantech industries.
Recognizing that the process of making beer is resource- and water-intensive, Jackson wanted to set a strong example of mitigating environmental impacts from the start.
“We are trying to be the best industrial brewery in terms of water conservation in the world,” Jackson said.
The centerpiece of its sustainability program is the Cambrian Innovation EcoVolt MINI, which converts about 95 percent of wastewater into potable water. Though that water can’t legally be used for brewing, there’s plenty of use for it in cleaning and in the boiler feed. Beer brewing is famously a guzzler: It typically requires seven to eight gallons of water to produce a gallon of beer. Seismic aims to get that ratio to 2:1.
Solar power took off because solar panels got cheaper and better, and because state and federal governments have helped subsidize the industry. But those aren’t the only reasons. A big part of solar’s success has come from new financial models, like solar leases and power purchase agreements (PPA), which save end-users from having to buy equipment upfront.
Now other environmental industries are hoping to copy solar’s success.
Boston-based Cambrian Innovation, which makes a modular wastewater treatment system for food and beverage plants, has come up with something called a water-energy purchase agreement (WEPA). Like a solar PPA, it saves users from startup costs and effectively turns infrastructure into a service. Plant owners pay a monthly fee based on the amount of wastewater going through the system, and in return they get clean (or nearly clean) water and energy in the form of methane, which can either be burned for heat, or converted to electricity. Cambrian’s EcoVolt product, which comes in a cargo container, is basically a supercharged anaerobic digester.