Collecting, treating and making money out of industrial effluents

Waste management charges no longer apply and the company’s sustainability performance improves without paying for it. The Vilokan Group cleans wastewater and recycles the raw materials, which it then sells on at a profit. A circular economy solution that brings benefits to many. “I believe that recycled products may soon cost more than newly produced chemicals,” says CEO Lars Rosell.

The Swedish company Vilokan was founded in 1987 and was something of a pioneer in pointing out that polluted water and water shortage was a serious problem. Back then, its warnings went largely unheeded. Today, things look different.

“We were ahead of our time. The establishment laughed at us and hardly anyone considered water scarcity to be a serious matter. People think that simply because it rains a lot, there must be plenty of water. There is much more awareness today,” says Lars Rosell, CEO and co-founder of the cleantech company Vilokan.

Back then, the company’s main focus was on the recycling of solvents. Today, using the same technology, Vilokan cleans water and recycles different types of liquid solvents and chemical substances. The company’s targeted customer base is the major industries, primarily the automotive, pharmaceutical and engineering industries, as well as the aviation sector which uses huge volumes of glycol in its operations.

Vilokan’s technology allows both de-icing fluids and other wastewater to be cleaned and recycled locally on the customer’s premises, the drain is shut off and it then operates as a closed system.

“We have several hundred customers who have switched to a closed-circuit system. We construct and man a facility at the customer’s site where the water is treated. It is profitable for us because we get the raw material, which we either resell to the customer at its market price or sell onwards to other businesses.“

The situation has changed since Vilokan began its mission and today both capital markets and industries want to minimise the water and carbon footprints in their operations.

The capital markets are becoming increasingly green in their outlook and the power of the consumer is strong. Banks must have green funds, which of course affects the entire market. Quite simply, if you’re not a sustainable company then you’re out of the game.

Our technology cleans water and recycles solvents. By recovering the raw materials, we prevent heavy metals and persistent substances from being discharged, thus achieving high-quality performance in a technical and sustainable closed circuit. The companies no longer have the cost of waste disposal and can significantly reduce their water consumption and carbon

The customers buy water treatment and recycling as a service and do not need to tie up capital in a separate infrastructure for this. One major customer is the aviation industry, which uses enormous volumes of glycol for de-icing aircraft.

As much as 1,000 litres of glycol, often with a variety of chemical additives, can be used to de-ice a single plane, and far from all airports collect and treat the wastewater,” Lars Rosell explains.

When the technology is offered as a service, it gives the airport operator the opportunity to manage environmentally hazardous waste without tying up capital in its own infrastructure. All in all, the need for heavy transport is eliminated, while at the same time Vilokan can build a business around the glycol, a commodity traded internationally for between SEK 10 – 14 per litre.

Vilokan’s facilities at Swedavia’s airports are like a display window to be viewed by an international market, with major customers in North America.

We have a lot of projects under way in North America. Many airports are using our services and we also have customers in the mineral and pellet production sector and the food industry, where one of our customers is the multinational corporation Nestlé.“

The Vilokan Group consists of several business areas, one of which is its closed systems for wastewater treatment and recycling. Another area of the Group is its facility in Borås, where raw materials not repurchased directly at the customer site are instead produced, repackaged and sold onwards to the automotive and other industries, and households. Lars Rosell says that changes are starting to emerge here too.

“Recycled products used to be regarded as having a lower value than new products. That’s now changing. Lots of companies are under pressure to reduce their environmental footprint and by using recycled products in their business they can cut carbon emissions considerably. You could say that they are practising sustainable procurement. I believe that recycled products may soon cost more than newly produced chemicals.“

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Text//Lisa von Garrelts