ExportWise is counting down our 10 best performing stories from 2016. This story, first published on November 1, is #4 on our list.
It is our most precious and finite resource.
It covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and is vital for all known forms of life.
Ninety-six per cent of our planet’s water is found in seas and oceans, 1.7 per cent in groundwater, 1.7 per cent in glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland. And a small percentage is made up of large bodies of water and in the air as vapour and clouds.
Only 2.5 per cent of the Earth’s water is fresh and most of it is locked in ice and groundwater.
Less than 0.3 per cent of all fresh water flows through our rivers and lakes.
Based on societal impact, the number one global risk is the water crisis.
Water connects us
For every microchip created for use in our cell phones, tablets and computers, approximately 30 litres of water is consumed. The design of contemporary chips has minimized beyond microscopic size so even minute contaminants in the water used to produce them could end up destroying the circuits.
Tech companies are investing heavily in innovation to maximize water purity and help reduce and stabilize their water consumption. At the forefront of this technology in the industrial and municipal sectors is Montreal’s Ovivo.
With a presence in 15 countries and five continents, Ovivo’s influence and reputation in water management is worldwide. “Our expertise lies in our proprietary products and systems integration,” says Pierre-Marc Sarrazin, VP of Corporate Finance & Treasury. “We subcontract manufacturing to several global suppliers to better leverage material quality. We feel this more flexible platform gives us a measurable edge over our competitors and allows us to focus on our added-value technologies and expertise.”
With more than 95 per cent of sales made outside Canada, exporting is not just another business option for Ovivo, it is essential. “We need to be global and we utilize our worldwide platform as a differentiator from most of our competition,” says Sarrazin.
Ovivo began life as Groupe Laperrière & Verreault (GL&V) in the mid-seventies specializing in the pulp & paper industry. Later, it diversified to become a world leader in liquid-solid separation technologies applied in the pulp & paper, mineral processing and water treatment markets. Recognizing the huge growth potential in the water treatment industry, they strategically acquired companies in the US and Europe throughout the 2000s, eventually selling off their mining division in 2007 and pulp and paper in 2014, re-emerging as Ovivo.
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Ovivo’s top three
While the water business is large and sprawling, Ovivo concentrates on three main sectors:
1. Municipal water treatment: Urbanization, increasing regulation and a rapidly aging infrastructure are pressing issues with most major cities and with tens of thousands of municipal wastewater installations across North America. Ovivo is entrenched in the market. Strongly represented in the US where resource recovery is becoming a focus, they’ve shaped the large membrane bioreactor (MBR) project for the city of Canton, Ohio, which has the largest MBR in the US.
Innovation is key in Ovivo’s success in this sector as evidenced by their licensing arrangement with Paques B.V. for their ANAMMOX technology designed for municipal markets in North America. This technology essentially removes ammonia from wastewater, and can significantly reduce aeration energy requirements and completely remove any additional organic carbon requirements. This leads to substantial savings in operational costs for wastewater treatment facilities.
2. Microelectronics: Like most businesses, data centres and semiconductor fabrication facilities use water for general purposes, like plumbing, planting and cooling. But the majority of their water consumption comes from ultra-pure water (UPW) used in manufacturing microchips.
Chips and their pathways are built up in layers, and between manufacturing steps they need to be effectively washed clean of solvents and debris. The pathways of modern microchips are now so fine they can only be seen with electron microscopes, so even the smallest piece of debris can be a mountain on a semiconductor.
“Our systems can produce the purest water in the industry,” added Monsieur Sarrazin, “as witnessed by our selection as the only water treatment member of the prestigious Facilities 450mm Consortium, a first-of-its-kind partnership that is leading the global effort to design and build next-generation 450mm computer chip fabrication facilities.”
3. Energy: The power industry needs massive amounts of water for the production of energy. Cooling water to condensers; feed water to boilers; water as an agent to remove pollutants – the requirements are sizeable. Ovivo is unique in this sector as it operates in both pure water and cooling water technologies within the power industry, enabling them to offer comprehensive, cost-effective solutions, including parts & services support.
Water management and the production, processing and use of water is inexorably linked to petrochemical and oil and gas production. A wide range of technology enables Ovivo to design and implement innovative solutions to meet the challenges of treating water and wastewater for both industries. This includes primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment solutions for onshore, fixed-offshore, or floating offshore facilities.
Total life cycle approach
Ovivo’s business model is strong as they approach their clients with a total life cycle offer. Not only are they offering new equipment, from the design and engineering of a project to the start-up and commissioning of the equipment, but they are also closing the loop by providing parts and services throughout the equipment’s lifespan.
“We decided to specifically focus on the aftermarket aspect of the business across all our segments four years ago,” reveals Monsieur Sarrazin. “The results have been very impressive as we are leveraging our client relationships, our heritage brands and our massive installed based around the word.”
New owners – new focus
In September of 2016, the company was acquired by a consortium of Germany’s SKion Water International GmbH (SKion) and Canadian investor La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (la Caisse). Skion will be the majority shareholder with 70%, while la Caisse increases its interest from 18.7% to 30%. SKion belongs to the German entrepreneur Susanne Klatten, who is also a major shareholder of BMW.
“We need to navigate through the cycles of the water industry and invest in growth projects with a long-term horizon, so we are better suited as a privately held company with owners who have patience and forethought when it comes to investments. That’s what we’ve found in SKion and la Caisse.”