Another eventful year comes to an end for SFC Umwelttechnik. Until November, the Salzburg SME supplied core equipment for a sewage treatment plant in northwest Portugal, near Porto, monitored the installation and carried out the first test runs. The high-tech plant will be handed over in early 2020 and will be one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It is a so-called membrane bioreactor that breaks down pollutants with the help of bacteria and secretes them through membrane filtering.
At the same time, the experts were involved in a non-typical but also large project to improve the drinking water supply in Ghana. In the coming years, it will be a matter of equipping the state water authority with hardware, software and training. This should enable local experts to make better use of the national water network and to find and repair leaky pipes. SFCU is supported in this project by the Klagenfurt consulting company Setec Engineering. And in December, Managing Director Franz Urstöger made a detour to Laos to conclude a contract for the expansion of the sewage system built by SFCU for a large hospital in the capital, Vientiane. The Laotian government is pursuing the idea of creating a green zone around the hospital that is intended to encourage imitation across the country.
In addition, business in Austria also progressed: one water recycling plant was handed over, another was commissioned. Last but not least, the medium-sized company prepared the market launch of the latest process, C-Ion. In particular, arsenic and drug residues can be removed from water and waste water.
Coup with inventor
SFC Umwelttechnik has been active worldwide for 22 years with the planning, manufacture and delivery of equipment for water and wastewater plants. Urstöger attributes the success primarily to competitive processes, which the company develops to market maturity and constantly perfects. Working on the three key processes C-Tech, C-Mem and C-Ion cost SFCU well over a million euros - in addition to funding from research funding funds or the city of Salzburg. "We always have to be a comma ahead of the others," Urstöger explains the commitment, "otherwise we have nothing to show."
Franz Urstöger joined the predecessor company, a pure engineering office, in 1985 after studying cultural engineering and water management at the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna and soon became part of the new team for international projects. As the competitive pressure increased, the consultants saw an opportunity to offer their own procedures. It started when they sent a colleague to a conference in Leeds, UK, in 1992 to contact Mervin Goronszy, who was announced there. Goronszy was an Australian researcher with Polish roots living in the USA, who had developed a promising new wastewater treatment process based on the modern cyclic activated sludge process.
In the same year, Salzburg tested Goronszy's invention, known today as C-Tech. "We used grants to improve the wastewater situation in the Czech Republic to compare three processes in the course of planning several plants," says Urstöger. "C-Tech proved to be superior in terms of both investment and operations." Goronszy himself moved to Austria to work for the new partners who offered him a home and salary. They were able to refine his process, which essentially consists of a ventilation and extraction device and a control system, and succeeded on the world market with the inventor. The SME has been operating as SFC Umwelttechnik since 1997.
With the installation of two C-Tech systems in the Czech Republic and one in Potsdam, Neubrandenburg and Güstrow, the first references for the new technology were soon available. "The systems did what they promised and made a name for themselves," says Urstöger. Orders from Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Ireland followed. Orders were also placed in Austria. And the company successfully entered China, Malaysia, Vietnam and India, Chile and Costa Rica.
The largest C-Tech facility to date equipped by SFCU is located in Jelotong, Malaysia. It cleans 200 million liters of wastewater every day, twice as much when it rains. “The investment was necessary,” says Urstöger, “because direct discharges from sewage polluted the sea to such an extent that the beaches had to be closed for health reasons. Meanwhile, Jelotong is again a vacation paradise. "
A C-Tech paradise, on the other hand, is India with more than 300 systems. SFCU built a number of plants here and from 2005 shared the business with the Indian partner company SFC Environmental Technologies, the establishment of which SFCU also provided financial support. The society grew rapidly. When the Austrian partners needed funds to pre-finance projects in 2009, the Indians volunteered and joined SFCU as majority owners. "Today the two companies work independently," says Urstöger, "the focus of the Indians is on India and the construction of C-Tech systems."
The Salzburg company, however, had already turned to ultrafiltration in 2003, a technology with which they came out ten years later under the name C-Mem. This quickly became the new hit and now makes up 80 percent of sales. The immense advantage of C-Mem: It is suitable for both wastewater and drinking water treatment and can be used in a variety of ways.
Thus, water from rivers and lakes with the smallest, namely the "Zero" variant - consisting of a C-Mem cartridge in a stainless steel container - can be converted into drinking water using gravity alone. "No additional energy is required, just a slope to produce up to 8.000 liters of drinking water a day with a single cartridge," explains Urstöger. He sees C-Mem Zero as a solution for regions with little drinking water or disasters and has often personally demonstrated his mode of action to government representatives in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Mexico. The hoped-for large orders are beginning to emerge. Myanmar has already received orders for hospitals and schools. One thing is clear: Urstöger does not want to appear as a retailer: "Because of the transport costs, C-Mem Zero is only attractive from a certain amount." In cooperations such as with the Portuguese medium-sized company AST, the product is to be sold in Africa and Brazil.
Innovative water technologies
With C-Tech, C-Mem and C-Ion, SFC Umwelttechnik from Salzburg has brought three outstanding high-tech processes for water purification onto the market.
What is common to the three methods? "They are powerful, scalable, combinable, versatile, robust, extremely economical in space and energy and easy to use," says managing director Franz Urstöger. C-Tech impresses with the fact that you can achieve everything in a pool for which the conventional method requires two pools. C-Mem cleans (waste) water from suspended matter by ultrafiltration using membranes, which are protected by a compact cartridge and kept clean by air backwashing. C-Ion is an oxidation technology developed with the MCI in Innsbruck that works with ambient air, i.e. without ozone.
Meanwhile, C-Mem is already developing its strengths for municipal and industrial water purification purposes on a large scale: 112 modules with 64 C-Mem cartridges each were installed for the sewage treatment plant in Portugal. Similar orders have already led to all continents.
Unlike C-Tech, C-Mem is a purely European product. The core component, a hollow fiber strand, is produced by the Salzburg company in its own production facility in the Czech Republic, the injection molded parts by Austrian partner companies, and the cartridges are assembled in protected workshops. "With the delivery of our equipment, customers receive a product and a process guarantee," emphasizes Urstöger. The latter ensures that the contractually defined measured values are actually achieved, which is of great added value for the customer. If the operator wants to desalinate the water or protect it against re-infection by old lines, other manufacturers' processes can be activated.
Every project a story
With all the advantages of the products, entering the world market was no child's play, says Urstöger: “It was very difficult for us to gain a foothold and get reference projects. We started in the small area and arrived slowly in the medium area, which doesn't interest the big players. In the meantime - like in Portugal - we are already able to take part in larger projects. ”Since the market in Europe is already relatively saturated apart from the Balkans, SFCU tried early on to do business in emerging and developing countries. The soft loans granted by the Austrian control bank OeKB proved to be a practical vehicle. Attractive packages can be put together for China and Sri Lanka. The current project in Ghana is also soft loan funded, as is the combined drinking water and wastewater project in Laos.
In these cases, SFCU acts as the general contractor. Urstöger explains the range of possibilities: “A project of three to four million euros is feasible for us. We can also manage a project worth ten to 15 million euros. But we are too small for an investment of more than 100 million dollars like Jelotong. In such cases we are subcontractors, that is, the planner and / or supplier of equipment.
As a C-Tech supplier, SFCU in Vietnam already got hold of projects financed by the World Bank and KfW years ago. Today Urstöger's interest in tenders from the World Bank and the like is low, because, as he says, "low-cost airlines place offers that undercut any reasonable price, promise everything and do nothing". He sees more opportunities in Europe if the calls for bids provide or at least allow his innovative processes. So the locals came to the train again and again - often after contacting companies offering them. They recently handed over a C-Tech facility in northern Montenegro. The hurdles here lay in years of delay in the start of construction and a lack of infrastructure. "We need on-site laboratories to determine inflow and outflow values, and IT experts to set up Internet-based remote access to the plant," explains Urstöger. In remote regions, angled alternatives can often be found.
Urstöger usually calculates three years for the acquisition of a project. When things go faster, like in Laos, he is happy. He spends no time in getting ahead in negotiations, because, as he says: "Being close to the customer is crucial for success." Going empty, the order situation fluctuating and payments being delayed is challenging for the SME.
Urstöger makes no forecasts for the development of SFCU. “It is important for us to have one or two large projects a year. We are currently busy, ”he remains sober. Nevertheless, he knows that he is well positioned: There are still many sales markets for C-Tech. "Our focus remains on Southeast Asia: In Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar, too much wastewater is still seeping away in the wild." When it comes to ultrafiltration through C-Mem, he expects the industry, which is moving around the world, to be particularly interested Recycle industrial or condensed water. And the new C-Ion oxidation technology will soon be a hit at the local level, this time with a strong focus on Europe.
The SFC environmental technology, SFCU for short, was established in Salzburg in 1997 as a further development of Schüffl & Forsthuber Consulting, which itself emerged in 1970 from the Krieger & Buchleitner engineering office founded in 1919. With 70 employees at peak times, Schüffl & Forsthuber was one of the largest international engineering firms in Austria.
The new company was founded after the decision to move from pure consulting to engineering and contracting. Since then, the company has acted as a system planner and supplier of processes it has developed itself. The renowned name SFC was retained, as was the focus on large-scale municipal and industrial plants for water and wastewater treatment. SFC Umwelttechnik currently has 14 employees, the managing directors are Konrad Wutscher and Franz Urstöger. Both have a stake in the company; the main owner has been SFCU, MFCai's SFCU, since 2009. SFCU has its own production in the Czech Republic. The annual turnover is between four and five million euros.