Ballast water has always been a requirement for ships. It helps trim or balance the vessels. But it also poses potential harm to environments where the water is disposed of.
This is because ballast water often carries invasive animals, plants, microorganisms and other alien species that can devastate local marine biodiversity and coastal ecosystems.
According to the study titled “Science of the Total Environment,” the biological impact of such invasive species have cost $1.1 trillion in damages all over the world in the last 62 years.
The cost of managing the invasions, meanwhile, was projected at $95.3 billion since 1960.
To mitigate this problem, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued a Convention on Ballast Water Management, which imposes regulations on the proper handling and treatment of ballast water.
The Philippines ratified the convention in 2018, requiring it to have a port-based ballast water treatment system.
According to the convention, all ships are expected to treat their ballast water before release by 2024.
As the Philippines guns to be compliant to the IMO Convention, a Filipino scientist co-invented a port-based water filtration system that could potentially help reduce the costs of ballast water releases in the country.
Implemented under the Ballast Water and Biofouling Management Research Program, the Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) essentially treats the ballast water to get rid of any invasive species that may come with it—for only a fraction of the cost.
Prof. Benjamin Vallejo Jr. of the University of the Philippines Diliman-College of Science (UPD-CS) Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) professor and Ballast Water and Biofouling Management Research program leader, said the system will just cost only P12 million, or about $200,000, a lot cheaper from the commercially-available systems that run between $1 million to $5 million.
“Our system utilizes UV sterilization and mechanical methods to treat ballast water, and has proven promising in initial tests in decreasing the number of invasive species translocated from port to port,” Vallejo said.
The system will comply with the IMO’s D-2 Standard for Ballast Water Treatment and can be used until the local industry can install its own onboard treatment systems.
The D-2 Standard means that the planktons should be less than 10 cells per cubic meter.
“We hope this treatment system will be cheaper than other costly comparable systems. Now is the opportunity for Filipino investors to break into Southeast Asia’s ballast water treatment market,” he said.
Currently, the BWMS has a working prototype that was developed through a funding from the the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Vallejo said his team is looking for investors to potentially fund the commercial launch of the BWMS.
“We need about P200 million in investments. We have to put a testing facility and a storage facility,” he said. “It needs further optimization for the second prototype, which is near the commercial launch.”
He said the group is open to both local and foreign financing, including green financing packages from lenders.
“There is interest from our government. And also some local investors are interested in it. We have to consider that we are on step one. There is still more research and development that needs to be done and it might be good if the private sector will take in some of the next steps in R&D,” he said.
Vallejo added that there have been feelers from financial institutions, given that the development of the local maritime industry has been deemed a priority of the current administration.
“Hopefully, within the next three years, we can launch,” he said. “If we do not provide this service, then the foreign market will enter.”
Likewise, Vallejo is keen on exporting the BWMS.
“We will have to partner with a foreign company since we [the Philippines] are now a globalized economy. We should be able to partner with international companies to firm the market,” he pointed out.
He cited as example, “if we break into the Indonesian market, we need to have an Indonesian partner. We have to also consider the fact that we need to export technology to other countries that may need it—especially in developing economies in the Asean.”
Vallejo discussed his invention at the iStories webinar, a series of innovation-themed talks, storytelling and activities featuring local and international scientists.
Image credits: Dr. Benjamin Vallejo Jr.