ENV Solutions

The award-winning team at ENV Solutions consists of 25 expert engineers, scientists and project managers working collaboratively to apply specialised skills in environmental remediation, occupational hygiene, resource recovery, and environmental consulting.

The ENV team love being challenged to develop, design, build and deliver solutions. The award-winning team at ENV Solutions consists of 25 expert engineers, scientists and project managers working collaboratively to apply specialised skills in environmental remediation, occupational hygiene, resource recovery, and environmental consulting. The ENV team love being challenged to develop, design, build and deliver solutions.

From their bases in Ballina and Coffs Harbour, they work with clients across NSW and interstate to develop innovative cradle-to-cradle solutions to serious environmental challenges. A shared commitment to a strong environmental philosophy drives the ENV team to shape solutions that will have a positive economic, social and environmental impact.

Watch 'Careers in environmental science and engineering at ENV Solutions' (4:13)

Careers in environmental science and engineering at ENV Solutions

(Duration: 4 minutes 13 seconds)


James Foster:

Each of us have an impact on this planet and it's really up to us to look at exactly what our footprints are and minimize the damage that we're doing. EMV Solutions is an environmental engineering company based in Ballina, New South Wales.

Environmental engineering's an interesting amalgamation of working on the environmental side of stuff and engineering. So we look at engineering problems, but from an environmental perspective. And in doing so, we often come up with novel and interesting solutions.

We see problems everywhere. So we've got waste problems, we've got air and water pollution, we've got transport issues. Being regional, those things are exacerbated. So some of the solutions that we can put forward to those are really important. And as engineers, that's our job to come up with those solutions.

We're looking at alternate energy sources, hydrogen production, microgrids, battery storage, and whether we can integrate that into our local area. If we can become self-sufficient in energy from a renewable source locally, that'd be a great help to everyone.

So I grew up in a little town called Austinville. It didn't have many people when I grew up, maybe a thousand, and it's a sprawling metropolis of 5,000 now. On leaving school, I went up to university in Brisbane, studied environmental engineering. After finishing engineering, managed to get a job, and was sent all around Australia and all around Queensland, doing some fascinating work. I built marinas off the Barrier Reef. I inspected dams in Western Queensland. Came away with lots of experience. After that, I went traveling. And so I had four or five years experience under my belt. Went off to Europe, got some fascinating jobs over there in petroleum refineries and doing work all the way around UK. I came back to Australia and worked for a local engineering company where I looked after their environmental team. I knocked on the door of my boss one day and said, "Oh, boss, I've had this really great idea. You know, I need to be able to build these treatment plants so that we can not only look at the problem, but we've got some equipment to actually provide the solution." And he is like, "Oh, no, that's never going to work. You know, concentrate on doing a job and keep your head down."

And that night, drafted my resignation letter and handed it in. And that was the start of ENV. That was only a quick six years ago. And since then, we have grown the business organically to include a massive array of different remediation technologies, some amazing equipment that we've designed and built ourselves to help remediate problem sites.

Going through university, some of my subjects didn't make sense until right at either the end of my engineering degree or moving into the workforce. So it's important to know that you don't need to be brilliant at chemistry and physics to be a good engineer. Other important skills that are needed by engineers are problem solving, analytical thinking. There's definitely some mathematics in there. You don't have to be a brilliant mathematician to be an engineer. You don't need to be a brilliant chemist. You need to have a good broad range of understanding.

There's a range of people that we need to run a business like this. We need innovative people who think outside the square. They're strategic, different skills in different areas, in finance, in HR. They are all important to keep this place running.

Look, if you're going through school and you don't really know what you want to do, look, the best thing you can do is keep doors open. And for me, if you've got an interest in solving problems, in doing something for the environment, keeping STEM subjects in your curriculum is a great way of keeping doors open into engineering and science.

[End of transcript]

Watch 'From waste to resource recovery and beneficial re-use' (4:49)

From Waste to resource recovery and beneficial re-use

(Duration: 4 minutes 49 seconds)


James Foster:

Coming up with beneficial ways of reusing waste materials is such a good idea. There's savings to be had from the disposal. And there's savings for the planet if we can reuse a material instead of using a new material for it. 

Concrete washout waste is, when a concrete truck goes and delivers cement, this is an agitator truck, they come back to refill up the concrete. And there's a little bit of cement left in the bowl of the agitator. Now, at the end of the day, they need to make sure that doesn't set into concrete and make their bowl smaller and smaller and smaller. So they add about a thousand litres of water and mix it all up and then spit the washout waste into a big pit plenty of water and a few bits of solid. So that's sand aggregate and the cement and the leftover cement particles. It gets washed into this pit. And then they open some little buns on it and let the water drain out and leave the solids behind. So the water's sent off and is recycled around the plant to make the next batch of concrete. 

But we have this solid material that we then need to deal with. Wash out waste is highly alkaline. It's got a pH at around 12 or 13. The cement properties have been hydrated. The water that you put in and mix in with the agitator stops the concrete resetting. But the resultant washout waste, we need to find a new use for. 

Not so long ago, concrete washout waste was generally taken back to quarries. And the Environmental Protection Agency were worried about this, because there were no controls on what happened to the runoff or what happened to the material. 

The elements of the solution that we came up with basically had to do some sampling on the material and characterisation. And we had to do that over a range of plants and geographic areas to make sure that we were always dealing with the same type of material. And then we had to write in a specification of how this material could be beneficially used. 

So the solution we came up with was basically using concrete washout waste as a film material and allowing the material to be blended with other materials to improve their properties. 

So say we're pulling out some really sloppy, muddy mess out of the ground from a development site, and you want to build a house on it. So you want to make that nice and strong. So by blending it in, we can actually make that soil usable rather than it also being a waste product that's unusable. The type of material that we're talking about there is, such as acid sulfate soils. We've also tried things like dredge soil, where it's been light, fluffy soil that's been dredged out of a river. And by blending washout waste for those materials, one, we're neutralizing the acid potential from material. We're reducing the requirement to use lime which is a natural product. And we're improving the strength characteristics of the soil, of the resultant soil. 

Another one of the really interesting options that we're looking at at the moment is mixing washout waste with other wastes, such as fly ash or slag, and improving the properties of those materials as well, enabling them to be reused. 

Ballina being a low-lying area, lots of our sites here for potential building need filling to raise them above potential global warming and flooding impacts. Fill is an amazing necessity that we need. And if we can use a recycled product to fill sites, and it's a safe and standardized material rather than a virgin material, then we've got our perfect synergy of beneficial reuse and resource recovery. 

Initially, we rolled out that solution in the Northern Rivers, the first seven concrete batching plants. But then we've since rolled that solution for a hundred thousand tons a year out of the Sydney Metropolitan Basin and now another dozen plants out Northwest New South Wales as well. We're slowly implementing that solution New South Wales wide. 

The future of resource recovery is basically expanding the types of materials, and where we can, integrating different resource recovery projects so that you're creating a new and better product. If we can make that product into something that's, you know, bigger and better and safer for people to use, then that's a big win-win. 


[End of transcript]

Watch 'Fuel contamination case study' (9:26)

Fuel contamination case study

(Duration: 9 minutes 26 seconds)


[Red and blue logo revealed reading, ‘STEM 2021 on demand: Education for a rapidly changing world.’]

James Foster:

Well, underground fuel tanks are basically a ticking time bomb. There's a steel tank put underground connected to a Bowser with steel lines and vents, and all it takes is one part of that system to fail, and you can end up leaking fuel into the ground.

Juri is just a little town, about 15 minutes, South of Tamworth in central new South Wales. And Juri had a post office that like lots of small towns had a couple of petrol bowsers at the front to sell petrol and diesel to the local community. Juri has no articulated drinking water system, so all of the residents there rely on both rainwater running off their roofs into tanks and groundwater. So lots of the houses have their own bore. During the drought about a year ago, some of the bores surrounding the post office started pulling up some slightly smelly water. And one particular residence pulled about 200 litters of fuel from their bore and put it into their drinking water tank.

So ENV got a call to come and investigate. And the first thing we did was look and see what the source of the contamination was. And it was pretty evident with only one fuel station in the town that we knew where that was coming from. The second issue was looking at the ground water source. Now all of the bores in the town were roughly 40 meters deep, which is quite deep for fuel based contamination to reach down. So this obviously wasn't a new leak. This was a long-term problem that had been found. We also looked at, together with the council, we started sampling everyone's bores around the town to see if we could see how far the contamination had spread. And at this stage we found water that was contaminated up to about 150 meters from the source. But later on, we actually found sources up to 300 meters away that were also contaminated.

In identifying the problem, we've actually got to look at the data gaps that we have and do an analysis of what we know and what we don't know. So we knew the source was potentially the fuel station, the underground tanks, but we didn't know where it, how far it spread. We needed to go and drill some more bores around the site to basically delineate where the contamination was and wasn't. In terms of formulating a solution to the problem, we had a collaborative process which involved the local council, the fuel system provider and the environment protection agency and us as the consultants. And we looked at what easy wins we could have in terms of removing the source of the contamination, so the tanks were removed. But that was a process all by itself in the building, the tanks were very close to the building, so we had to underpin the building. So we had structural engineers and builders come in and make sure that the building wasn't gonna fall down. So then we could remove the tanks and remove the grossly contaminated material down to bedrock that we could get. So once we'd remove that material, then we know that there's no more fuel actually going into the ground there. And then we can start coming up with a remediation solution.

We did some brainstorming about the actual type of geology and the type of Acworth for that we were dealing with and that site. And it's a really tricky geology to try and do any remediation in. So we're dealing with a siltstone, a fractured rock that basically has fissures. And as the contamination hit the bedrock and started moving down, it follows these cracks in the rock and moves in all different directions. And it's very difficult to actually ascertain where the plume is going to go. We also had to contend with the fact that people continued to draw through their bores and irrigate, and that was actually tracking the contamination in different directions, depending on who was pulling more water and pulling harder from the aquifer. So we had a very tricky condition to try and conceptualize and put a site model together so that we can come up with a solution.

Chief environmental scientist is a toxicologist. So he's actually looking at pathways and the receptors and for the contamination, we've got a geologist, who's a specialist in looking at fractured rock and trying to map fractured rock and work out where the contamination is going. And then we've got hydrogeologists on the team so that they can actually look at the aquifer and try and identify how this plume is moving. And then we had our remediation specialists who were then working out how we're actually going to try and remediate this problem.

Within about six weeks, we actually conducted a detailed site investigation, which tried to close up as many of those gaps as possible and identify exactly where the impacts lay and that report was provided to all the stakeholders, the environment protection agency and the local council. And together, we were trying to work out the best way of managing the situation.

When you're in an area with no water supply, it's critical to try and bring in solutions to that as well. So while we were remediating, we were actually removing groundwater with product in it. And we were taking that into our treatment system and removing the product and cleaning it up to non-potable standard. And then we actually sent that back to the, some of the sites that had no access to their groundwater bores, so they could use that for watering the gardens and irrigating their pastures and that sort of stuff.

We have a product called soil vapor extraction, multi-phase extraction unit, and a couple of those together in one container. This unit is designed specifically to remove hydrocarbons out of soil and out of water, out of brown water. So when you get a, if you've got a glass and you put a bit of water and some fuel or some oil in it, and you shake it up, then you get a layer of hydrocarbon or oil on the surface. But with fuel, you actually get some of those products out of the hydrocarbon, actually dissolve, dissolve phase into the water as well. We initially aimed to remove that more layer of product, the neat product, and then we need to go after the dissolved phase as well, to help remediate that whole aquifer. We have these little skimmer pumps and which we send down wells, and that's when we can see a big layer of hydrocarbon sitting on top of the groundwater, and they specifically just remove that layer of hydrocarbon. And then we send down, what's called a total fluids pump, which pull a combination of dissolved phase water and hydrocarbons out of the ground. And we treat that through our system.

The neat product we put into a tank, and that gets recycled and the dissolved phase, we try and remove the hydrocarbon from the water. And then we polish that water with activated carbon filter. And then that can be then irrigated. We test it and then it can be irrigated as a non-problem water source. So the last part of our system is the soil vapor extraction. And that's where we have high levels of vapor in the soil that we need to reduce. Vapor intrusion can happen back into buildings, so the vapor is lighter than air, and it'll actually travel up through and into buildings. We've got extensively a big vacuum cleaner that can actually suck the air and the vapor out of the soil, though we put specific wells around, especially where the product had gone into that ground. And maybe under the building where we couldn't access, couldn't actually remove the soil that was contaminated, and over a period of months, we actually pulled that vapor out. And that vapor gets pulled out by a big vacuum cleaner. It goes through a carbon filter to remove the hydrocarbons, the vapor, and then the rest gets expelled back to the atmosphere as cleaned air.

So this is a project that's probably gonna be ongoing for a few years. Still got equipment out there that's currently not running. It's just in latent phase. And that we may that up again when those, if we see that we've got hydrocarbon coming back onto the groundwater.

Well ENV offer a range of solutions to help prevent this sort of issue occurring in the first place. The first is called secondary containment monitoring. So where you've got underground tanks, we installed monitoring wells down into that groundwater so that if there are any leaks, we're monitoring them and we can pick up those leaks quickly

[End of transcript]

Watch 'Innovative environmental engineering' (4:01)

Innovative environmental engineering

(Duration: 4 minutes 01 seconds)


James Foster:

ENV Solutions is an environmental engineering company based in Ballina, New South Wales. Environmental engineering's an interesting amalgamation of working on the environmental side of stuff and engineering. So, we look at engineering problems but from an environmental perspective. And in doing so, we often come up with novel and interesting solutions.

Climate change has to be, you know, pretty much number one on everyone's mind at the moment. We're doing some amazing and interesting things that are going to help impact and help reduce climate change. We're looking at alternate energy sources, microgrids, hydrogen production, battery storage, and whether we can integrate that into our local area. If we can become self-sufficient in energy from a renewable source locally, that'd be a great help to everyone.

The challenges of working in the current environment, we actually come up with solutions all over the place. There's so many problems out there. We often have to actually park ideas and park solutions until the right time or the right people come along or the right project comes along to actually implement.

We've been really lucky to develop a wide range of staff with lots of different skills. We're generally all scientists or engineers. Some of us have skills in toxicology or ecology, some of us are industrial chemists, some of us are water specialists, some of us are process engineers, some of us are environmental engineers, some of us are chemical engineers. And by putting all that melting pot together and concentrating on people's strengths, some people have strengths in strategy, some people have strengths in delivering projects or project management, some people are good with people and can communicate really well with clients.

At ENV, we kind of work to try and pull all those aspects together and deliver projects using the right people and the right team to come up with one with fantastic solutions, but then with the right team that can actually deliver those solutions and make sure they fit the purpose.

So, we've got a couple of really prominent achievements at ENV. One has been our recognition through some awards that we've been granted, both on a local and up to a state level. But we've also done some really interesting projects and by delivering those projects, we feel that's a really great win for everyone. Together with our partner, Holcim concrete, we've managed to come up with a way of recycling washout waste. We've also protected communities' water supplies that have been contaminated and come up with new solutions for how we restore that environment.

Look, there have been challenges finding the right staff. Recently, we've found that with our greater exposure, that the right staff are finding us and that they want to be part of the solution. So, we're getting some really great graduates out of Sydney, and Melbourne, and Brisbane knocking on the door with their first-class honours and saying, "I really want to be working for a company that's making a difference."

I see ENV solutions has amazing potential to grow, not just from the little town in Northern New South Wales, but potentially some of our solutions could spread Australia wide or indeed overseas.

I think sustainable solutions sell themselves. Having an environmental win-win and being a solutions focused company, and especially in the environmental space, is going to be critical to moving any company forward.

The best thing is that I get to work with an amazing range of people that have got great skills at doing such positive things for the environment.

[End of transcript]

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