Pass-through Distillation voted Project of the Year

POTYA sign


Keynote Address for PEO Gala

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great honour to address you tonight on behalf of Drystill, this year’s project of the year winner in the small company category. I would like to tell you our story. It is a story of how a very small Canadian company is making a big impact on world-scale problems. Removal of ethanol from watery mixtures, like fermentation broth, is an important industrial activity. Drystill has invented a device it claims can do a better job than conventional equipment. With funding assistance from NSERC, Drystill teamed up with Sheridan College to build and test a bench scale prototype under rigorous academic supervision. The testing validated Drystill’s claims. That is the project in a nutshell. Although it may not sound remarkable, I think you will be astonished by its significance to the world in general – and to Canada in particular. The removal of ethanol from watery mixtures is only one of thousands of tasks carried out every day by the process known as distillation. Although many people associate the term mainly with whiskey and other alcoholic beverages, distillation is in fact an industrial workhorse, touching almost everything we eat, wear and use. It is also a very old technology, used by the early Egyptians to prepare fragrances and medicines. Simplicity is its main virtue: You simply boil a liquid then cool the vapours to turn them back into a liquid.  Although mankind has become a lot smarter about the science behind distillation, the same ancient process is still in extensive use all over the world. Distillation, however, it has two serious drawbacks: Its enormous use of energy is costly both in financial and environmental terms, and its hot operating temperature is troublesome in some important applications. Drystill, in contrast, champions an alternative process called Pass-through Distillation. It enables economical low temperature distillation, reducing boiling temperatures down to 30 degrees Celsius while simultaneously reducing energy use by 50%. The Pass-through distillation process is in the public domain. It is not patentable because it is an obvious combination of well-known scientific principles. But it has never been implemented industrially for want of a suitable heat and mass transfer device with which to carry it out. Drystill has met that need with its invention of the SAM: an acronym for Stripper/Absorption Module. The SAM has patents granted or pending internationally. In industrial settings, distillation is not powered by renewable sources like wind or solar energy. It is powered by steam, generated by burning fossil fuels in a steam boiler. This means that where pass-through distillation displaces conventional distillation, the same results are achieved by burning half the fuel. The signing of the Paris Agreement last April marks the beginning of world-wide deliberate action against Global Warming. Each signatory country, including Canada, has pledged to cut back on the combustion of fuels to halt the progressive build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. No single measure will accomplish it. Some measures will be easy to bear – but others will be very painful. It will be painful to curtail our vacation travelling. It will be painful to have to cut back the thermostats of our domestic furnaces. But if manufacturers were to replace their conventional distillation equipment with Drystill equipment, the only pain would be its capital cost. That pain however would be offset by a fast payback due to reduced fuel costs. Government incentives could make that payback very rapid indeed. Once the investment has paid for itself, it will continue to save fuel costs for years to come. As countries around the world get serious about living up to their commitment to burn less fuel, this is the kind of measure that is going to be sought. It doesn’t affect anyone in a negative way. It is low hanging fruit in the quest for greenhouse gas reduction. But can Pass-through distillation be applied widely enough to make a significant impact on the global warming problem? Many people are surprised to learn just how much of our global energy budget is devoted to distillation. This pie chart, representing data from the US Energy Information Administration shows that 32% of all energy is used by industry. A third of that goes in to distillation! This is a whopping 9% of all energy used in the United States for any purpose. Pass-through distillation can cut that down significantly. It is applicable in many industries including food and beverage, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, specialty chemicals, wastewater treatment and others. It is reasonable therefore to say that Drystill’s technology is an attractive greenhouse gas control measure in the context of the current industrial environment. But industry itself is undergoing enormous changes. While coal, crude oil, and natural gas remain the dominant source of both energy and chemical feedstocks, there is a movement toward renewable sources such as agricultural crops and harvested biomass. Already in North America 10% of the fuel we burn in our cars is corn ethanol. Efforts have been underway for at least two decades to make ethanol economically from straw, wood chips, corn cobs and other waste biomass. When that effort finally succeeds, the world’s dependency on fossil fuels for transportation will be broken, and we will be well on our way to defeating the global warming menace permanently. Unfortunately there remain serious economic problems with the production of cellulosic ethanol. Many studies have shown that low temperature distillation enhances economics by keeping microorganisms alive and preventing destruction of expensive enzymes. Researchers have demonstrated this at lab scale but low temperature distillation through conventional means is not feasible at plant scale. A breakthrough technology is needed, and Drystill believes that pass-through distillation is the answer. The success of the cellulosic ethanol industry and victory over global warming may hinge on one question: Can pass-through distillation remove ethanol from a fermentation broth at a temperature of 30 degrees C? Here’s a news flash for you: Drystill and Sheridan College just tested it using a Drystill SAM. IT WORKED . For the good of our planet, this technology needs to be tested at demonstration plant scale as soon as possible. Since it is a Canadian invention, I am hopeful that a way will be found to do this testing in Canada, and that Canada will reap economic benefits by becoming the purveyor of pass-through distillation technology to biorefineries all over the world.

Akzo Nobel Announces Finalists in Imagine Chemistry Competition


Akzo Nobel logo


Developed in conjunction with KPMG, Imagine Chemistry was launched to help solve real-life chemistry-related challenges and uncover sustainable opportunities for AkzoNobel’s Specialty Chemicals businesses.

From January to March 2017, participants could submit solutions through a dedicated online challenge platform (The platform is now closed for submissions for 2017). Special challenge teams comprised of subject matter experts worked with participants through the platform to enrich and validate their solutions and determine if they are a good fit for AkzoNobel’s business.

An enthusiastic response resulted in more than 200 innovative ideas being submitted by chemistry start-ups, scientists, research groups and students around the world.

A jury made up of AkzoNobel business and R&D leaders and prominent international experts then selected the most promising ideas as finalists. This year’s finals will take place at AkzoNobel’s RD&I Center in Deventer, the Netherlands, from June 1-3, 2017.

Drystill is one of 20 finalists that will be participating at the event. Here is an excerpt from Akzo’s website, in which they describe Drystill’s submission:

“Pass-through distillation for wastewater

Steve Furlong, Drystill, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Challenge area: Wastewater-free chemical sites


Drystill is innovating thermal evaporation technology with its Stripping Absorption Module (SAM), a pioneering heat and mass transfer device.SAM can remove water from almost any stream or water source without heating it or putting it in contact with a drying material.


Conventional thermal evaporation of industrial waste has a high carbon footprint and costs. SAM offers a practical, low cost, low carbon solution that leads to wastewater-free chemical sites. This is achieved by dewatering effluent to produce clean, reusable water and high caloric-value/low-volume liquid residue.


Water vapor is transported to a compartment containing hygroscopic salt solution, which is then dewatered using conventional methods. SAM consumes no external heat or power: evaporation is caused by the exothermic absorption of the effluent vapors into a flow of concentrated brine (such as LiBr).

Pass-through Distillation, Drystill Chosen by Akzo Nobel

This year Akzo Nobel launched the first global innovation challenge for startups in chemistry. Through a competition called “Imagine Chemistry” Akzo is trying to accelerate the commercialization of important new ideas from around the world. On April 5, 2017 Program Manager Rinske van Heiningen announced that Drystill has been selected as one of ten finalists. She wrote:“We received over 200 submissions for more sustainable chemistry, which we have carefully reviewed with our team of researchers. We believe your solution ‘Drystill & Pass-through distillation: Improving the operating costs and carbon footprint of waste water concentration’ holds great potential and we are honoured to invite you to the finals, taking place in Deventer, The Netherlands from 1-3 June 2017. At the event, we will work together to further build on your idea during the workshops.

During the three-day event you will get personal feedback from our experts and AkzoNobel decision makers. The team will consist of senior level management, such as chief procurement officers, finance directors, operations managers, sales & marketing directors, R&D directors, etc. The composition of the team may vary depending on the phase and specifics of your startup. With this feedback, as well as the challenges/hurdles you perceive yourself, you will work in small teams over several rounds to further develop your concept.