Dr. Mykola Gora, Head of Technology and Operations talks about agile companies, scalability of lab results and his role at Arva
How long have you been at Arva? What happened during this time?
I joined the company in January 2011 when it was still called MOG AG. We embarked on the development of the sludge purification plant STORM-15. By this time the company had already gained experience in biological treatment of oil-contaminated soils and carried out successful test runs in Thailand and Russia.
In 2012, we launched the first plant for an oil company in the Ukraine, a joint venture of British Petroleum and the former Russian-American TNK-BP. We developed a tailor-made solution for the treatment of oil sludge. The mechanical separation of oil, water and solid matter was unique at the time. The process is far superior to the expensive thermal treatment by incineration, both economically and in ecological respect.
From 2013 onwards we started the development of a new chemical oxidation reaction. This a chemical process that decomposes hydrocarbons into environmentally neutral components by means of superoxidation. The procedure is significantly faster and more efficient than the biological treatment and, above all, less temperature-dependent.
After several successfully completed projects – for example on an oil drilling site in Siberia – we are currently concentrating on introducing this technology to the European markets, where the environmental standards and regulatory requirements are much stricter.
Please tell us about your professional background.
After completing my studies in engineering and economics and the doctorate in Ukraine, I worked as an engineer in various technology companies. As Deputy Head of Research and Development at a company in the defense industry, I coordinated the R&D department with more than 500 employees. Here I gained valuable experience in how to lead a team of creative professional, delegate responsibility and standardise processes. This inspired me to join an MBA programme at a business school in Edinburgh which I finished two years ago.
I also worked as CTO, Marketing Director and Managing Director in smaller companies. Here, I had to complete a lot of tasks by myself without being able to delegate. This was an exciting time, which made me much more flexible.
My work at Arva is again a whole new experience. This is my first assignment in an international company, where we develop solutions for different markets and countries, which I find very exciting. In addition, this is a very agile company, that adapts itself very flexibly to market opportunities and customer requirements. We now work simultaneously on various solutions for eco-friendly soil remediation. We have a lot of work to do and it is far from boring [laughs].
You are in charge of the technical development at Arva. How do you define your role? How do you cooperate with your colleagues in the R&D and sales departments?
Oh, my role is immensely interesting [laughs]. My department serves as a link between research and development and the sales department.
In simple terms, we transfer scientific findings into efficient technologies. We help to select equipment, participate in testings, analyse result-affecting factors and ask R&D to take them into account in lab tests. In other words, we address the issues of technology scaling-up.
In addition, we are involved in drawing up documents for the clients, thus reducing the R&D’s workload. Our scientists should not divert their attention from their primary objectives as our company’s future greatly depends on them.
What technologies does Arva offer? What is currently being developed?
At the moment we are concentrating on implementing the NHS+ process, the chemical superoxidation, for various applications. It ensures fast and flexible decontamination of hydrocarbon-contaminated soil, gravel or surfaces. In the railway sector, for example, we use track-mounted trolleys to apply the liquid components of NHS+. To treat excavated soil, we work with mobile plants, so we do not have to transport the substrate which saves time and money.
At the same time, we have received a great deal of feedback from the operators of soil treatment facilities, who are interested in integrating our procure into their process. We have successfully treated a large number of samples from these plants, which were still highly contaminated despite chemical-physical pre-treatment. Now, on the next stage we will perform test runs with larger volumes and material tests, after which we can carry out the technical integration.
A further promising approach is the combination of NHS+ as a pre-treatment and a subsequent microbiological remediation. This is a symbiosis of two opposites: Combining the very efficient, but more expensive chemical process and the cheaper but significantly slower bioremediation provides customers with an optimal solution that is faster than bioremediation and cheaper than solely using NHS+.
What are your challenges at the moment?
Right now it’s all about scaling. When a completely new process has grown out of the test tube and is being transferred to large remediation projects, there are thousands of factors affecting the reaction. Moreover, our markets are rather conservative. Our clients and especially public authorities and regulators, closely scrutinize new environmental technologies before their application is permitted. NHS+ is no exception. But that’s fine with us, since we are highly concerned with ecological sustainability. According to our latest tests and experiences from large trials, I am very optimistic that we will convince the initial skeptics.
Currently, we have divided the market entry into several stages. On the first stage we have the track bed cleaning. Next up is soil treatment on site via customised mixing machines. This choice is obvious since gravel beds are less complex, geochemically, than most soil types. Treating soil in a mixer is a closed system making it much easier to control the reaction.
Where do you see the most promising markets in terms of technical development?
In addition to the aforementioned areas of track bed cleaning, the integration of the process in soil cleaning plants and the on-site treatment with mobile plants, I believe that attractive future markets are:
The treatment of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), e.g. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): This is an entirely different market, with significantly higher margins than in the treatment of oil contamination. On top of that, most customers don’t object to excavation of contaminated soil. Thus, it’s considerably easier to control the treatment process.
Soil remediation with a combination of NHS+ and microbiological treatment: This will significantly expand our target markets due to lower prime cost. This technique has great potential, for example in Africa or in countries like Azerbaijan, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, where bioremediation is well-known and widespread. By introducing the pre-treatment we can considerably speed up the process.
A modernisation of the STORM-15 system is also conceivable: This allows us to carry out projects recovering hydrocarbons from old weathered oil sludge and at the same time cleaning remaining solids from the residual contamination.
But these are long-term projects. We take one step after another.
How does Arva’s future look like from your perspective if everything works out as desired?
I see Arva as a successful company, represented across the globe with highly specialised know-how and unique technologies. These are our core assets. Remediation works are to be executed by regional partners under our technological supervision.
This approach ensures a rapid entry into new markets, while at the same time we can focus on the optimisation of our technologies and implement new processes.