At Sea — December 2000
By Capt. Bill Pike
A solution to one of yachting's yuckiest hang-ups? Or not?
Let's face it. There's a whopping problem with today's shoreside pump-out facilities: In many regions of our fair nation, they're un-numerous, un-findable, un-handy, and downright un-touchable, and when you finally do stumble across one, the first thing that comes to mind is what possible health risks may accrue from actually using the dang thing. My last assignation with a Florida pump-out is a case in point. Besides requiring me to take a long, hot shower afterward, it necessitated a total change of ensemble. Next time I have to empty a holding tank in a strange marina in Florida, I'm taking along a pair of disposable coveralls, rubber gloves, a gas mask, and a doodoo mojo.
Could there be an easier way? Maybe. Tony Nassef, an environmental engineer with a penchant for boats, claims to have invented a compact, conceptually simple device that uses the intense heat found in the exhaust headers of marine engines to dispose of onboard waste, turning the gruesome stuff into two basic components that harmlessly disappear with the engine exhaust: steam and mineral ash. At first the idea sounds far-fetched and smells suspiciously like the old Thetford Thermasan, a device used successfully on RVs in the '70s. Entailing the mixture of waste with the hot engine exhaust, the Thermasan ultimately disappeared because it could dispose of only liquid waste and required inordinate amounts of engine hours to handle even moderate amounts of effluent.
Nassef's invention is different. Thanks to a sophisticated delivery system, a microprocessor, and a hotter combustion process, it can, according to Nassef, handle liquid and solid waste and do both quite efficiently, handling flow rates of 10 gpm or more.
Nassef's credentials are persuasive. With a degree in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State University and another in environmental engineering from the University of Oklahoma, he's been working in the field of waste disposal for almost 30 years. Today most of his work centers on industrial treatment systems. But he's also into other more exotic projects like self-sufficient sewage treatment facilities for tropical islands, systems that turn raw sewage into plant nutrients, and, of course, the disposal of marine sewage via engine heat.
"Bill," Nassef affirms, "It's an idea whose time has come."
Few boaters would disagree. So a couple of weeks ago I visited Nassef Engineering & Equipment Company of Pensacola, Florida, to take a look at a recently patented prototype. As soon as I arrived, Nassef hustled me to a big, empty room at the rear of a large, prosperous complex filled with young engineers and draftspersons working diligently. Inside the room he pointed at the floor and an odd-looking agglomeration of electric motors, pumps, and other components mounted on a single base plate. It looked pretty humble, almost forlorn. Moreover, the absence of an engine anywhere nearby substantiated what Nassef had told me earlier on the phone: The prototype was not currently operational. While he'd obtained positive test results by synergizing the gizmo with the 250-hp gasoline engine in his 21-foot Chaparral, he'd ultimately had to remove it to free up cockpit space for family outings.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.