Cambi turns waste into valuable exports

The winner of Norway’s 2019 Export Prize developed a process for upcycling sewage


Photo: © Cambi Group AS
An illustration of Cambi’s thermal hydrolysis process (CambiTHP®), acting as a pre-treatment step before the anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge. Thermal hydrolysis exposes the sewage sludge or other types of wet organic waste to high temperature and pressure.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

International trade is important for a small country like Norway. We have many good export companies that manage well in international competitions. At the same time, we are losing traditional export market share. Norway is the OECD country that has lost the largest market share measured in export volume in the last 20 years. Our exports are half what they were in 1998.

The peak oil period is over. Norway needs to speed up its restructuring of the economy to tackle the future challenges of an aging population with low birth rate and an extensive welfare state. These challenges push us to increase our export base. We need to go from startup to scaleup, and more companies need to look to trade and opportunities abroad. For growth and more variety in the export base, it is essential with more risk capital.

We need role models that can show the way. One such model is Cambi Group AS, this year’s winner of the Norwegian Export Prize, presented in May. On social media, the company said it was “truly proud to be the winner. The prize recognizes our company´s effort and achievement in international business.” It thanked the organizers behind the award, Innovation Norway, Eksportkreditt Norge, and GIEK Kredittforsikring. In a press release, jury leader John G. Bernander said, “Cambi’s solutions represent the circular economy in practice. Their research and development [is] focused on sustainability, forward-looking innovation and economic growth over time…”


Photo: © Cambi Group AS
One of Cambi’s plants in the United States, Medina County, Ohio. CambiTHP® converts the sludge into biosolids for agriculture.

Cambi turns waste into valuable resources such as biofuel and fertilizer. The company is a world-leading provider of sustainable sludge management solutions based in Asker, Norway. Its core expertise is designing, manufacturing, installing, and operating industrial process installations, mainly for treating sludge before or after anaerobic digestion in wastewater treatment plants. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “anaerobic digestion is the natural process in which microorganisms break down organic materials. In this instance, ‘organic’ means coming from or made of plants or animals. Anaerobic digestion happens in closed spaces where there is no air (or oxygen).”


Photo: © Cambi Group AS
A tractor spreads Cambi biosolids as fertilizer at Aberdeen, United Kingdom.

Today, Cambi operates 50 plants in 22 countries. Another 15 plants are under construction. The company did its first project for co-digestion in 2005. Cambi was contracted to deliver a plant for source-separated food waste, industrial biowaste, and wastewater sludge, to be treated in a co-digestion facility. The client was a cooperative effort of 52 municipalities in the middle and northern part of Norway. The turnkey project was successfully commissioned in 2008. Then, the company decided to develop a more compact plant for medium-sized projects. The first contract was signed in 2010 for a plant in Drammen. Since then, the concept has been refined and standardized into prefabricated modules, reducing the time needed for production and site erection.

Cambi’s solutions were selected for a major upgrade of the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., in 2011. This was a breakthrough for the company in the U.S. market and raised significant international interest. Cambi delivered four six-reactor streams, handling sewage from about 4 million people. The plant’s operator, DC Water, saved about $200 million in digester construction costs, compared with a conventional approach.

In 2014, Cambi contracted for 14 new plants. The breakthrough was in China to deliver five large plants in Beijing. The same year it introduced a plug and play containerized plant to handle the needs of small to medium sized wastewater treatment plants. Following years of stable operation at Blue Plains, the U.S. market opened up for Cambi in 2017. Contracts were signed to deliver solutions at the Clinton River facility in Pontiac, Mich., and for the Trinity River Authority near Dallas.

Cambi’s American office is in Malvern, Penn., a suburb of Philadelphia.

Rapid urbanization generates an increasing amount of wastewater, sewage sludge, and biowaste that can be turned into renewable energy. The future market potential looks bright.

This article originally appeared in the June 14, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Rasmus Falck

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his masters degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo.

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