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Originally published January 10, 2015 at 5:01 PM | Page modified January 11, 2015 at 8:44 AM

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Turning poop into clean water

Peter Janicki of Sedro-Woolley wins praise from Gates for sanitation invention; bank acknowledges “typo”; Ponzi schemer’s fall will be dramatized.


Seattle Times business staff

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Actually, I see it as relevant for here as anywhere. If human waste can be transformed into potable water and... MORE

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Under a headline “How to turn poop into drinking water,” Bill Gates last week posted a video on his blog that showed him drinking a glass of the poop-borne water — immediately drawing world attention to the latest brainchild from Peter Janicki of Sedro-Woolley.

Previously known for his groundbreaking innovation in aerospace and marine engineering, the ever-inventive Janicki now has set his sights on improving sanitation in undeveloped regions of the world, starting with Africa and India.

“I was really impressed with Janicki’s engineering,” Gates wrote. “And I’m excited about the business model.”

Janicki said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation poured “multiple millions of dollars” into his development of a new machine designed to produce clean water and electricity from raw sewage.

What Janicki calls the OmniProcessor looks like a small chemical plant about the size of two school buses. A conveyor belt feeds sewage sludge in one end and steam rises from gleaming steel pipes as the machine works its magic.

Janicki’s machine essentially powers itself.

It dries the sewage sludge, distills the water and burns the solid residue as fuel. The energy produced from burning the solids is enough to run the machine and produce excess electricity.

“It does seem almost too good to be true,” Janicki said. “That was the only way it was going to work economically.”

Janicki says there is no new miracle technology involved, only the most modern and efficient application of existing, cost-effective technologies.

The machine had to be “created and designed from scratch,” he said.

It uses a steam piston engine, instead of a much more expensive turbine; a boiler “like what you’d see in a modern coal-fired power plant, but shrunk down a thousand times in size;” and a sophisticated dryer.

The business model accompanying the invention also impressed the capitalist in Gates.

Janicki estimates an entrepreneur in India can within a few years recover the cost of buying the system, which is “somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million.”

That’s because an OmniProcessor owner is set to collect money at every step of the sanitation chain.

First, the owner is paid to take away the sewage that’s trucked in.

Then, once run through the machine, the owner sells both the water and the excess electricity.

The prototype OmniProcessor will be shipped to Dakar, Senegal, for a pilot program later this year and Janicki is working on a more powerful version.

“I’ve always wanted to do something that has a very major impact on the world,” Janicki said. “This could have a profound impact on the lives of a lot of people.”

He said he aims to create “a technology-development center here in Washington that produces some of the most amazing sanitation and environmental solutions in the world.”

On multiple trips to to Africa and India, Janicki realized that the flush-toilet infrastructure we have in the West cannot be provided in any realistic time frame.

In rural areas, the lack of sanitation is manageable, he said, “but in cities with 10 million people living in an area the size of Seattle, it’s a gigantic problem.”

He’s well along in development of another of Gates’ goals for the Third World: “an amazing new toilet.”

“It requires no electricity. It requires no water and has no pipes coming out of it. The only thing it produces is a little bit of ash,” Janicki said. “It’s totally self-contained and gets all the energy from the fecal matter.”

Why has no one come up with such engineering?

“I’m not sure we’ve had the brightest minds trying to solve this problem,” said Janicki. “It’s not a very glamorous thing to be up to your elbows in.”

Bank acknowledges $59 million ‘typo’

If anyone should get the dollars and cents right, it’s a bank.

But even banks make mistakes now and then.

HomeStreet Bank’s parent company has corrected a Dec. 31 regulatory filing in which it understated the cost of leasing its headquarters by, oh, 92 percent. It was a $59 million error.

Alert readers would have noticed that HomeStreet Inc.’s filing about the 10-year extension on its lease at downtown Seattle’s Two Union Square made no business sense.

It stated the total lease payments for the remaining 12 years “will be approximately $5.361 million,” and went on to disclose that the lease allowed new landlord-funded tenant improvements worth $7.329 million.

No landlord would be in business for long with that kind of lease. In another Securities and Exchange Commission filing Thursday, HomeStreet acknowledged some typos.

The actual base-rent payments for the 141,000-square-foot space add up to $64.75 million over the lease’s remaining term, which is 13 years, not 12 years as originally stated, the company said. That works out to an average annual base rent of $4.98 million.

HomeStreet said it had no comment on the filings.

— Sanjay Bhatt

Schemer’s fall to be dramatized

Producers for “American Greed,” the CNBC series that dramatizes the rise and fall of white-collar criminals, will be in Seattle this week filming for an upcoming piece on Frederick Darren Berg and his massive Ponzi scheme.

Several local people involved in Berg’s Meridian Mortgage empire or its collapse said they’d been contacted for interviews by the show’s researchers at Chicago-based Kurtis Productions.

An executive at Kurtis Productions said it was too early to discuss what the piece will cover, and a spokeswoman for CNBC had no immediate comment.

Berg was sentenced in 2012 for what the U.S. Attorney’s Office said was the largest Ponzi scheme ever prosecuted in Washington state. Officially it was more than $100 million, but depending on the accounting it could have been double that.

His company claimed that it paid investors high rates of interest by astutely buying seller-financed real-estate contracts. But prosecutors and the trustee for Meridian’s Chapter 7 liquidation called it a long-running fraud.

American Greed last visited to do a piece on Michael and Linda Mastro, who absconded to France rather than face bankruptcy fraud charges.

Like them, Berg had a luxurious waterfront home. It was built with some of the money he siphoned from Meridian, and has since been sold — but presumably some lingering long shots from the water can still be had. The bus company that he built by diverting more than $45 million from the mortgage firm can be seen in cities up and down the West Coast, operating with the same livery and name though under new ownership.

An enterprising documentarian could even travel to Eugene, where Berg in the early 1980s did a short stint at the University of Oregon and was treasurer of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity before being blamed when funds went missing.

Litigation is still going on to sort out blame for the fiasco, with the liquidation trustee suing the accounting firm that worked for Berg.

But he will presumably not be available for interviews — he’s serving an 18-year sentence in federal prison.

— Rami Grunbaum

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com



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