The Korea Herald, in collaboration with the Korea Environmental Industry & Technology Institute, is presenting a series of articles introducing small but promising environmental tech firms. The following is the fourth installment. ― Ed.
Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Or so many CEOs have preached to their staff.
Yet, this overused, hackneyed saying best captures the essence of what made Boo-Kang Tech Co., or BKT, successful in wastewater treatment.
When Kim Dong-woo started it in 1998, the small Korean firm struggled to meet local regulations in its chosen field of livestock wastewater treatment. In its search for solutions, however, the firm developed technology and expertise that Kim now looks to sell in a broader water treatment market and beyond.
“Treating wastewater from livestock farms requires a high level of technology compared to urban sewage,” said Kim, the firm’s founder and CEO said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald. “With all the excrement and urine of cattle, livestock wastewater is highly contaminated, with high density and viscosity.”
Trying to meet the country’s tough requirements on livestock wastewater treatment, the firm focused on research and development.
One technology made way for another, leading the firm into far bigger markets of urban wastewater treatment and membrane-based water filtration systems.
The path was also rewarded with numerous patents and a sharp increase in its share of the domestic livestock treatment market.
“For the past five years or so, I think we swept almost all new deals in the field of livestock wastewater,” Kim said. Livestock wastewater remains as the mainstay of the firm’s business.
|Kim Dong-woo, founder and CEO of BKT (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
The CEO, however, bets its future on two new technologies which it calls BBF and FMX.
BBF, short for BKT Biological Filtration System, combines physical filtration technology with biological solutions using microbes. The system is currently being installed in two of Seoul’s four biggest wastewater treatment facilities as well as a wastewater treatment and reuse plant in Qufu, in the southwestern Chinese province of Shandong.
FMX, or Anti-Fouling Membrane System, is a new way of controlling membrane fouling, the most common cause of system failure in membrane-based water treatment facilities. By generating turbulence by using a vortex generator, it prevents solute or particles from depositing onto the surface of a membrane or into its pores in a way that degrades the membrane’s performance.
The membrane market is where global water giants such as Siemens are heavily investing for its potential application across a wide range of industries.
“Our specialty is not in mainstream markets like the construction of large-scale wastewater treatment facilities or development of membrane products,” Kim said.
“We carve out our own niche, by identifying areas where we can capture value which would be otherwise wasted.”
An example is what BKT has done to beer brewers. Beer firms pay surcharges for the disposal of brewery wastewater, which is high in organic concentration. By providing membrane-based treatment solutions, BKT enabled their clients to recover reusable materials from the wastewater and lower the disposal surcharges.
“In many cases, we create a new market, with an approach that wastewater is a resource,” Kim said.
In an ambitious and bold step, the CEO moved to California in 2008 and set up an American unit. He has since led the firm’s global sales and marketing operations from there.
Thanks to the effort, the Gangnam, Seoul-based firm now partners with large U.S. firms such as Nalco, Ashland and Tetra Tech.
BKT expects revenues this year of 30 billion won ($26 million), from 18 billion won in 2011. It has an order backlog of about $130 million in municipal wastewater projects.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)