Meet The Experts: Billy Ammons
BlueInGreen Technical Services Manager Billy Ammons possesses extensive experience in a wide variety of treatment processes, solids drying operations and disinfection methods. He has also assisted in the design of numerous plant upgrades and the construction of new treatment facilities. Ammons is a member of the Water Environment Federation, Arkansas Water and Wastewater Managers Association and Arkansas Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers.
Billy began his career at the City of Fayetteville’s Water Pollution Control Facility in 1981. He was later hired by CH2M as a Lead Operator for its operations and maintenance division, Operations Management International, Inc. (OMI), where he continued to rise within the company. Before joining BlueInGreen, Billy served as a Regional Business Manager at OMI for 11 years, where he successfully supervised multiple water and wastewater treatment projects across the country.
In this week's Meet The Experts, we sat down with Billy to learn more about his start as a night shift operator, how tame design can hinder creativity and what he expects BIG to accomplish next.
What led you to engineering?
Well, nothing, because I am the antithesis of an engineer: a proud operator! (Only partially teasing.) I got into the "business" out of desperation actually, after having been laid off from my preferred job of home building back in the winter of 1980. My second child had just been born, and I had bills to pay and a family to feed. I took the best paying full-time job I could find at the time: a night shift operator at the Fayetteville WWTP. As they say, the rest is history.
What excites you about working with water?
After just a few months, I quickly realized what we were actually doing was true, front-line environmental protection - which strikes a strong chord with me. I have considered myself a protector of the environment ever since.
What is your proudest moment as an operator?
I have many proud moments and many difficult moments to choose from. However, I am very pleased that my team and I were able to be heavily involved in the design and start-up of the Fayetteville West Side Wastewater Treatment Facility - a relatively state-of-the-art facility which started up in 2008 and has a a near perfect record of compliance with the applicable (and extremely stringent) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
Describe an average day at BlueInGreen.
Show up to work and just live the dream! I get to spend 8 to 12 hours each day working with great, committed co-workers and supportive clients, all working together to enhance water and wastewater treatment by utilizing our superior dissolution technology. Meeting the challenges of a wide variety of situations and treatment scenarios is just as demanding as it is exciting. Seriously.
"After just a few months, I quickly realized what we were actually doing was true, front-line environmental protection - which strikes a strong chord with me. I have considered myself a protector of the environment ever since."
Walk us through a problem that you solved during a recent project.
The especially complex issue of integrating our technology into an existing and highly successful single basin sequencing batch reactor (SBSBR) comes to mind. It is normally much easier to "come to the rescue" at a given facility when they are experiencing problems related to inadequate volume of oxygen or an inability to efficiently transfer oxygen. However, fitting our system into an existing operation that is already achieving extraordinary results - with the overall goals of reducing costs by reducing horsepower and helping the existing system weather extremely cold temperatures - has been much more challenging.
We studied the existing operation at length, performed both a bench-scale and a pilot-scale test using their actual influent and mixed liquor and conferred with existing operators extensively before finalizing a design and tentative initial operating plan. Despite our thorough preparation, several factors combined to make the initial startup of this project very difficult and exceptionally intricate.
First and foremost, the weather experienced during start-up was much colder than normal for the area. Even though helping to deal with these kinds of conditions is one of the primary reasons our technology was selected for this location, starting up new pumps and discharge points - as well as a new system of introducing oxygen during a time that the existing biomass was already in a state of flux and reduced performance - created a whole series of uncertainties and questions that did not have clear-cut answers. We had some difficulties sorting out exactly which observed reaction within the treatment process was caused by which specific stimulus, since there were so many changes occurring simultaneously.
After a few weeks of combined effort, the entire team of owners, operators, contractors and BIG personnel embarked on a more deliberate course of action with the firm, intent to reduce the number of changes happening at the same time to allow everyone to feel comfortable with the results from each new step before moving on to the next. This more calculated process allowed the on-site operational staff to identify yet another series of changing conditions that had been previously unknown and unforeseen with regard to the nature of the influent water being treated by the SBSBR. When these new stimuli were identified and some facets of the original installation were modified and enhanced, process performance improved to expected levels and the energy savings and temperature protection goals of the BIG installation began to be realized.
What do you hope to achieve with your research?
We expect to be able to prove that the BIG oxygenation system can provide oxygen to an active biomass at over 95 percent transfer efficiency and in a form that is so much more bioavailable to the bacteria that it is difficult to quantify. The net result will be oxygen utilization that is several times more efficient than any conventional air-supplied oxygen system available, which can be applied across a wide variety of site-specific conditions and will pay for itself in energy savings in most applications and locations.
"I get to spend 8 to 12 hours each day working with great, committed co-workers and supportive clients, all working together to enhance water and wastewater treatment by utilizing our superior dissolution technology."
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
The public perception that engineers have to design a system based on a concept that has been proven many times over and has a large margin of safety. This requirement - foisted upon the consulting engineering profession by largely well-intentioned, yet overly conservative customers - leads to drastic overdesign and a ubiquitous aversion to trying anything innovative or creative. In short, caution can stifle innovation.
What do you like to do outside of work?
When I'm not working at BIG, I partner with my brother and one of my sons to maintain a small cattle operation, using horses to work and move the cows. I actively participate in church-related activities, and I volunteer when I can. My wife and I also love to spend time with our nine grandchildren. Needless to say, they keep us busy.
What advice would you share with an aspiring engineer?
Learn how the systems you intend to design actually operate on a day-to-day basis and what will be required to maintain those systems. Listen to the people who are doing the daily routine work, and try to find opportunities to keep learning about new concepts throughout your career.
"meeting the challenges of a wide variety of situations and treatment scenarios is just as demanding as it is exciting. Seriously."
What do you hope to accomplish next?
I want to implement more of our systems in even more locations to further prove that our solution for oxygenation is not only more efficient than anything else on the market today, but also more effective. More systems in more places for more applications. That's the BIG goal.