Published by Norway-Asia Business Review

“It’s like cooking potatoes to make them softer and easily digestible. That’s what we do with sewage sludge and food waste before we feed it to bacteria to produce biogas.”, Mr Dragoș Tâlvescu explains.

Cambi’s award-winning process, thermal hydrolysis (CambiTHP®), is patented and sold worldwide. Sewage sludge and other organic waste fractions are pre-treated at a high temperature and pressure (140 – 170℃), before anaerobic digestion. This increases the biogas output and produces high-quality biosolids that can be used directly as organic fertilizer.

Cambi started 25 years ago in Norway and has expanded into more than 20 different countries. Compared to traditional anaerobic digestion methods, Cambi’s “advanced digestion” solution is much more compact, produces more biogas and often turns the waste product into a valuable resource. By now, Cambi’s method treats sewage sludge and food waste from more than 60 million people worldwide.

Reducing risks and cost, hassle-free

“Traditional methods leave a lot of water and organic matter in the residual product from biogas production. Safe disposal of the leftover “digestate” after the anaerobic digestion process can be very expensive. Cambi’s technology both converts more sludge matter to biogas and makes dewatering more effective, and thus decreases the volume of waste to be disposed of. In addition to increasing biogas production, our process converts the material to a low-odour compost-like fertilizer, and requires only a third of the bio-digester volume compared to traditional methods. This means that fewer, smaller installations can process the same amount of sludge. In densely populated areas with expensive land, this is an important factor, reducing the initial plant footprint, or allowing for more waste to be treated with the same infrastructure.

The innovative process sometimes requires an additional overall investment, but this is compensated by the reduced energy and disposal costs. The biogas can be used on-site to produce electricity or it can be upgraded to bio-methane for green transportation. Heat from cogeneration engines fuelled by the biogas is used as steam in the sludge pre-treatment process. The electricity can be used on-site or sold to the power grid. These are some of the reasons Beijing chose Cambi. For large cities, we are very often the most reliable and cost-effective solution.”

Major markets – Asia, the new cornerstone

“We started in Norway, then the UK was our major market, but now we are focusing more and more on China and the USA, while India is sailing up as an important future market. Most Cambi plants are in the UK, but with five new plants to be fully operational by early next year, Beijing will be the city where Cambi processes most sludge. Here, 6000 tons per day of sewage sludge from 22 million people is collected at 13 different wastewater treatment plants and then brought to five large sludge centres for processing with Cambi’s technology. We are also building a plant in Singapore and looking at several other opportunities in Asia’s big cities.

Several developments are driving the change to such advanced biogas systems in Asia. These include the need to reduce the carbon footprint, incentives for renewable energy and anti-pollution regulations. Also, we see that civic action by local communities plays an important role in the choice of solutions for waste management in industrialised developed countries, including Japan and South-Korea. Here, many large cities are densely populated and organic waste disposal is quite costly.

Another area of interest is fast emerging markets like China and India. They have large urban populations and city rapid growth. Following China, India is seeking to leapfrog to new technologies for handling some of the problems accompanying development. In both countries, we see long-term thinking and the ambition to choose the best available technology.

In the beginning, China posed some difficulties in terms of market access for Cambi. However, after 4 or 5 years of arduous awareness building, negotiations and project development, we now have five projects in Beijing. We have learned that developing close relationships with the key stakeholders and building trust in a new market takes significant time and effort, which most smaller companies might not be able to commit to. Innovation Norway plays an essential role during this long lead time to winning the first projects. Cambi participates in several IN supported marketing efforts and networks.

“Our installation at XiaoHongMen wastewater treatment plant has been in successful operation for about one year. It was officially opened in the presence of Prime Minister Ms Erna Solberg on 6 April 2017. The second project at Gaobeidian WWTP started commissioning early in 2017. The remaining three plants, Qinghe, Huaifang and Guantun, are expected to be in operation within the next 12 months. As part of the deal for the five projects, Cambi also entered into a China Partnership Agreement with Beijing Drainage Group and its subsidiary, Beijing Drainage Construction Company. Together with the Beijing Drainage Group, we are currently looking at new prospects in China.”

Circular Economy

Cambi is also looking at projects in Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and large cities all over the world as well as considering additional production locations. “Our standardized production in the UK is cost competitive and ensures high quality and reliability, but we are considering local production as well, not the least to reduce shipping costs and import taxes”. For example, the tanks and piping used in the Beijing plants were produced in China.

“Innovation is at the heart of everything we do in Cambi and we are animated by a strong desire to learn, improve and share our insights with customers. We are the most experienced and successful company in our own niche, but this does not make us complacent. On the contrary, we continue to innovate, well aware that, as renewables are about to become a mass market, competition increases and our clients’ needs evolve.”

Cambi’s strategy includes the development of new products and applications, Mr Tâlvescu shares. “We are highly aware of the global challenges of providing food, water and energy to all, in a sustainable way. Cambi’s vision is to make a significant contribution to urban sustainable development worldwide by addressing the key challenges of the food-energy-water nexus. Our thermal hydrolysis solutions are a very good illustration of how to achieve a circular, sustainable economy in the years and decades to come. But our journey is long, in an industry with long lead times, and we will work hard to always offer reliable solutions and an unparalleled service, addressing the challenges our clients face.

Cambi is committed to stay fresh, continuously developing our products closer to the elusive, perfect process and design. We already offer smaller, standardized thermal hydrolysis plants. In most cases, we deliver the most cost and energy efficient solution, depending on the specific needs of each client.

We also have a head start in new innovative solutions. At the moment, our clients still need to get rid of the left-over waste at the end of the treatment process. We have significantly decreased the waste volume and improved its quality, but we would now like to offer solutions for the final disposal as well. To this end, we recently announced a collaboration with an experienced Norwegian company, Høst (in English, “Harvest”).

Høst turns digested sludge and other organic waste products into bio-fertilizer and soil by adding, among others, nutrients and sand. They are the main player in Norway, but their products are already highly appreciated in Asia as well. Together with Høst, we literally want to make the sludge and waste disappear; saving the client the effort and money of disposing of the leftover product, and monetising it at the same time. All the while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Global Green Shift

“The five Beijing plants will, when completed, reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 300,000 tons of CO2e and produce enough biogas to provide electricity to 150,000 households. Additionally, the resulting Class A biosolids can used in agriculture, urban green spaces or like in Beijing’s case, reforestation projects. In this way, Cambi’s technology improves the urban environment in Beijing and helps China meet its renewable energy and climate change goals. Cambi’s solution is also very well suited for China’s future “sponge cities”, an ambitious plan to design ecosystems and manage water resources sustainably, while avoiding recurring flood problems.

Projects like this are at the heart of the global green transformation. Cambi’s plants in Beijing, developed in collaboration with the Beijing Drainage Group, are good examples of how environmental technology can take an increasingly important role in Norwegian exports. Green technologies are a priority for Norway, as industries and cities strive to become greener, smarter and more innovative.”

  • Cambi is the leading global supplier of thermal hydrolysis solutions, with more than 50 operational projects in 20 countries and over two decades of successful operational experience;
  • Cambi’s technology treats sludge and biowaste from more than 60 million people;
  • 6,000 tons per day of sewage sludge will be reduced to less than half in the Cambi factories in Beijing, while turning the waste into an asset for reforestation projects;
  • The biogas produced in Beijing after the Cambi process will replace coal-based electrical power equivalent to the demand of almost 150,000 households;
  • – In total, the five projects in Beijing will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of 125,000 cars, or 300,000 tons CO2 equivalent per year;
  • Cambi can be reached through its website.


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