GET TO KNOW OUR EXPERTS: STEVEN MEDCALF

In the first of a series of blogs in which we showcase our expert team, we interview Dr. Steve Medcalf, Business Development Manager (Waste Water) at Biochemca Water Ltd, now part of Veolia Water Technologies UK.

Hi Steven, can you introduce us to Biochemica Water Ltd and tell us a bit about the company please?

Biochemica Water Ltd is a national water and wastewater treatment chemicals expert based in Teesside. Dealing largely with Industrial and Municipal customers, its key service areas include Legionella control, monitoring and management services after chemical supply.

Merging with Veolia Water Technologies UK was a great fit for the company as both Biochemica Water and VWT are very strong when it comes to regulatory compliance. The merge also brings a lot of benefits to Biochemica Water, as while we were previously working with a lot of big companies, our main focus has always been on chemicals so we outsourced the supply of CAPEX equipment when it was needed. Now we can get everything we need in house from VWT UK and provide a full service offering.

Both companies also share the same work ethic, technology-based solution mentality and a good working culture with staff developing long careers at both companies.

How did you come to work for Biochemica Water?

When I first left school, I got a job with what was then Reckitt & Colman, a household product manufacturer, where I worked for 20 years. I then did five years with Nalco as an Account Manager , seven years with GE in its wastewater sector, and finally a period with Solenis before joining Biochemica Water three years ago.

I initially joined Biochemica Water as a Senior Account Manager for clients such as Greggs and KP Snacks. However, my qualifications are all in polymers and applying polymers to wastewater so about six months ago it was decided that I would focus on new business in wastewater and water treatment to play on my strengths in that area.

What does your current role with Biochemica Water entail?

My role differs day to day as everyone has waste to dispose of and every individual scenario is different. I work on my own for the most part, travelling all over the country so no day is the same. Ultimately, my goal is always to help a company to stay compliant whilst also saving water, energy and chemicals, and looking at how they can optimise their processes.

Most customers I visit are having problems with their consent limits, whether that is chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), solids, or heavy metals. If a company is unable to discharge its wastewater to site because it is failing to meet consent limits, then the whole site comes to a standstill, so these kinds of problems need to be dealt with immediately.

Alternatively, we could be helping to deal with a problem like a smell on site or a colour in the water which you can’t then discharge into a river. Manufacturers are obliged to return their wastewater to the water course in the same condition that they extracted it in; and it’s crucial that they aren’t affecting the environment around them. They don’t want complaints from people in the area about an unpleasant smell, for example.

What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day usually involves travelling to one or more of a variety of customer sites. Then, once on site at a customer’s plant, I will meet the plant manager or director and discuss their concerns and any issues they are having with their set up. Once we have an idea of the issue, I can work back from there.

In many cases, when a company has a problem with its effluent plant, the tendency is to add more water into the mix, to water down the consents; but in reality, if a company is being charged heavily for its water, that’s the last thing you want to do. So instead, I will play around with the chemistry, flocculants and coagulants, look at how they are adding them in and also talk to the staff to gain an understanding of where the problems lie. I always ask them, if they had a magic wand, how would they rearrange their site? What improvements would they make? I will usually start doing some analysis on site straight away, either GR testing or looking at the polymers and the pH of the wastewater.

I then take a traditional MOC approach – machinery, operations, and chemistry. First I look at the machinery; is it handling the flow rate? Are the pumps big enough? Is everything working properly? If it is, I move on to the operations: is it being operated correctly? Are people doing silly things at night like not filling tanks up when they should be? Is the pH drifting because the chemicals haven’t been made on time? Finally, if I can’t find any other issues I will look at the chemistry; but it is very rare that the chemistry is the cause of the problem. Every batch of chemicals we supply is the same, so normally the problem is something that has changed in the process.

Once I have located the issue I will then generate a proposal for the client on how we would look to amend the problems they are experiencing.

Has COVID-19 affected your day to day work?

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped me visiting plants but it has changed things. For many of our clients, production has increased during the pandemic as a large number are food manufacturers. As such I am considered a key worker and it is crucial that I keep the plants in working order to keep people in work and supermarkets stocked. In other cases, even if a manufacturing plant is shut down completely, I still need to keep the plant ticking over so that it can start up as soon as possible, otherwise there would have to be a two or three week start-up period before manufacture can start again, which most companies can’t afford. There are also issues like Legionella which never go away.

Usually I am one of the only people on site at a plant now and I have to have my temperature checked on entering. Working up on top of a digester in 60 degree heat in a facemask or shield is certainly an experience I won’t forget.

What is one of the most common or timely issues that you help your clients resolve?

At the moment the water authorities are tightening regulations on metals and phosphorus consents down to single figure parts per million (ppm) so that is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Generally environmental compliance is getting tougher and tougher, absolutely everything has to be tested and sampled.

Water scarcity is also a big issue at the moment. Any way we can recycle water, use rain water or take water from the processor and make it clean enough to use for wash water is being investigated. Likewise, everyone wants to save energy. If a plant’s waste stream is methane rich, or rich in another burnable gas, then it can be burnt and the energy can be returned to the grid. That is an avenue that many companies want to investigate as a green solution that also pays for running the plant.

Educating clients that you can’t just add chemicals to a problem to resolve it is another situation I often encounter. Even though chemicals are our specialism, we advocate trying to use as little chemical as possible as there is no chemical that won’t have some sort of effect on the environment.

In the old days we had no awareness of the impact of chemical treatment but we do now. We have to come up with clever ways to use the chemistry and show our customers how to solve a problem in the most effective way for them but crucially without impacting on the outside world.

Fun fact: favourite piece of music?
When I was at university I found a piece of music by Henry Gorky called Symphony of Sorrows. I listen to it every time I get stressed – it’s my go to.

For more information on Biochemica Water Ltd., please visit www.biochemica.co.uk/.