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Flo-Dry Engineering

Breaking Down the Waste Business

Chris Herden

Tissa Fernando is calling out for investors to help turn his private company into a $100 million per annum global operator in the field of waste treatment and bi-product generation.
Breaking Down the Waste Business

Tissa Fernando is calling out for investors to help turn his private company into a $100 million per annum global operator in the field of waste treatment and bi-product generation.

“This is important to countries like Australia and New Zealand, where we have a lot of animals because from a large abattoir or processing plant you can get as much as 200 tonnes of this material a day, and if we had to continually throw it on a dump somewhere, there would be a huge problem,” Fernando says.

Flo-Dry Engineering, which began offering waste handling solutions in the early 1980s, is an innovator of the rendering processes in this specialised field of by-product recovery and odour control.The wet animal waste material, the fatty tissue, bones and offal is tossed and cascaded through the air stream of a heated combustion chamber, yielding more valuable fat commodities and protein as it simultaneously dries and breaks down.

Fernando professes he is simply replicating the oldest recycling industry known to man: the centuries-old practice of a kettle over an open fire to make soap and candles and to turn pork fat into lard.

“We take the meat or fish waste, whatever can’t be eaten and dry it,” he explains. “They started this in the earliest times in Rome - what couldn’t be handled from the animal was boiled up to produce a fat which goes to soap making. Similarly, today we produce a protein meal which goes to feed animals.”

A MEATY BEGINNING

In 1983 Flo-Dry Technology, as it was then called, designed and built direct fired rotary dryers. These were mainly supplied to the meat and fish processing industries for the treatment of animal waste. Around this time Fernando was a chemical engineer at the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand, carrying out research in conjunction with Australia’s CSIRO. He used the Flo-Dry facilities to develop a low temperature rendering system.

“My job was to clean up the meat rendering industry which was very archaic at that time,” he says. “We had to bring it up to modern standards and my director said to make it look like a dairy factory and that’s what I did.”

Fernando designed an energy-efficient rendering system (using an economical 2.8kjls per tonne of water evaporated) in which wet animal waste was dried to produce a protein laced finished meat and bone meal substance. In 1990, he and his wife Nele bought the dryer manufacturing business and renamed it Flo-Dry Engineering. From its base in Albany, New Zealand Flo-Dry Engineering now develops, manufactures, services and provides ongoing support to waste processing plants worldwide.

“We are doing the same things and much more than when we first started in 1983. Now we have not only dryers but we build complete wastewater systems, animal and fish waste treatment plants and equipment for treating odorous air.”

GROWING OUT

In 1995, the company expanded its range of drying machinery and began development of a complete rendering facility, boldly stepping into the pool of international manufacturers which provide sludge drying equipment to urban water treatment utilities around the globe.

“We have taken the company from the meat and fish industries into the municipal sludge treatment industry,” Fernando says. “This is quite different and difficult because we compete on the world stage with some very large companies.”

Sludge is the insoluble slurry which remains following the cleansing treatment of community and industrial wastewater streams. Over recent decades, there has been a growing emphasis in the variation and improvement of sludge treatment methods.

“It is the last remains that end up in a wastewater plant. It is like a black paste; a solid residue from the waste we send there and that we have to get rid of.”

The opportunity to convert a growing regulatory problem, the disposal of wet sludge as landfill, into a marketable agricultural product is proving attractive to municipal bodies worldwide.Today, wastewater sludges are the fodder for a dry fertiliser compound rich in nitrogen, potassium and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium and zinc – a bio-solid end product for the farmer.

“So the dryer system basically does two things: it produces a sterilised dry material which is easy to handle and it reduces the initial volume, as much as five-fold in some products.”

Fernando estimates he has sold 25 of his rendering plants across the globe, and Flo-Dry systems are in place in New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and Chile. In 2000 Flo-Dry installed its first fully automated facility in New Plymouth. The company has a strong presence in India, where it has installed nine operations which have generated about $40 million during the past 15 years.

“India is our biggest market and we are about to build three more there,” he says. “In India we are regarded as the number one supplier of rendering plants, without a doubt, and we visit there every month. We are also trying to get a large sludge drying plant into Korea and a very large project—a rendering and bio-diesel plant—is happening in Brazil.”

Fernando has secured long term alliances with leading brand suppliers such as Klein, Biogest and Aerotech, from which Flo-Dry Engineering acquires machinery components which are then strung together in the making of the company’s dryer systems.

“It is all put together in our manner and some items like the dryers, evaporators, bio-filters and the waste water treatment plants are all our proprietary designs. We are very selective with our suppliers and don’t spread it out. We are working with overseas companies and have partners in Germany and Korea and right now are looking to work in Brazil. We have our own company in India where we are also building items for New Zealand and Australia.”

Fernando puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to investing in the development of waste treatment technologies. The company built a pilot plant exploring new techniques in obtaining fatty acid methyl ester from tallow (the greasy by-product of the drying process) in order to produce non-toxic bio-diesel.

“Tallow was a low value product but it is high value now,” he says. “We have a system to produce bio-diesel and we now have our very own bio-diesel plant.”

In 2006 Flo-Dry put $ 2.5 million toward the installation and operation of an experimental dryer for a three-year trial programme in conjunction with Watercare, Auckland’s water services provider, at the Mangere Wastewater Treatment Plant in New Zealand. This dryer was effective in removing even more water from the moist end-product and eliminating stench-emanating bacteria. The dryer produced up to 500 kilograms of dried bio-solids an hour. This product was easy to handle and transport and was later packaged and sold as fertiliser.

“We could prove this combination of Flo-Dryer systems offered us a 29 percent reduction in energy usage and this just tips the scales to make everything more sustainable,” Fernando says. “The energy we get out of the sludge is more than the energy we put in, and this makes operation costs much lower. We have had a lot of interest in this system.”

LATEST PROJECTS

The company’s latest initiative is to manufacture standardised packages of energy efficient rendering plants, and to engage in joint venture owner/operator type relationships.

Fernando says Flo-Dry will soon be offering a limited share package to the public in order to present the very latest Flo-Dry systems to the world.

“We are looking for investors because our technologies are not cheap. One of our latest developments involves applying very low direct voltage to the sludge and so we then get rid of more water by electro-osmosis. We are going to the market with it very soon and are trying to attract investors’ attention, for I feel we have something to offer. We want to grow from a $10 million a year into a $100 million a year company.”

A feature of the Flo-Dry system is that a large proportion of the combustion air is recycled through the drying process, thus reducing the volume of exhaust gasses. Tissa Fernando is clearly enthused with the green credentials of his Flo-Dry business.

“We are totally focused on preserving the environment and our operations are based on reducing greenhouse gasses and we don’t just pay lip service; we actually show we can achieve these savings. The US plan or Mr Obama’s plan to reduce global greenhouse gasses by 20 percent is very interesting to us. We regard that 20 percent figure as pretty significant because everything we do is based on that.”




 

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