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Global Corporations Look To Water Reuse To Strengthen Resilience

Industrial companies that use a high volume of water in their processes are having to think carefully about the risk water scarcity poses to their operations. Paul O’Callaghan, chief executive, BlueTech Research, shares learnings from his dialogues with cross-sector industrial end-users about their innovation requirements and how they are closing the loop through wastewater reuse.

By Paul O’Callaghan, Chief Executive of BlueTech Research​​

Water reuse
Paul O'Callaghan, Chief Executive of BlueTech Research​​

Paul O’Callaghan, Chief Executive of BlueTech Research

​Ambitious targets around water use have been set by many big corporations, with innovative solutions being sought and developed, as companies seek to strengthen their resilience and reduce reliance on non-sustainable sources. As the water scarcity situation becomes ever more critical, the issue is being discussed in boardrooms around the globe, with major changes in process being implemented as a result.

BlueTech Research is a specialised market intelligence company tracking water sector technology and innovation globally. In September it will publish its Industrial Reuse Report Plan, which gives in depth technical data and analysis on how industries, including food and beverage, pharma and oil & gas, are currently reusing water - and how much more could be reused.

The report follows the BlueTech Forum held in London in June, where challenges, goals and innovations around water resources were discussed by many global corporations including Heineken, BP, Kimberley-Clark and Nestlé.

Chief executive Paul O’Callaghan said: “We are seeing some significant changes in how large businesses are managing their water resources with more and more now exploring alternative methods.

“Companies depend on water to operate, so it’s obviously in their interest to think about how they could use less.  We know many are striving for continuous reductions in water use and have set themselves ambitious targets, such as achieving zero waste.

“Some of what’s being implemented is relatively simple – training for staff around best practice, improved water efficiency or upgrading treatment plants to run more effectively. Other solutions involving innovation and new technology may require huge investment and major changes in process, but this is crucial if we are to have any meaningful impact.

“Globally, there has been a significant increase in both general water reuse and non-potable water reuse projects and the use of available technology in this area is accelerating.

“This shift is good news for all of us – and it’s come as a critical time.  A commonly cited statistic is that industry accounts for 20% of global water consumption. Therefore, industries are likely to be among the first to come under pressure to use less - we’re now seeing large corporations such as L’Oreal and Heineken take concrete action.

“Of course, the challenge with all new processes is getting the balance right – such as how to reuse water without using too much energy? How can large companies meet their sustainability targets, while still being productive and providing a good service to their customers?

“These issues must be carefully considered before any new processes are implemented.  Even when we think we’ve got it right, when it comes to sustainability and resilience, we must not stand still. Processes must continue to be reviewed as new technologies become available.”

​Peer-to-peer learnings

Water availability and solutions to mitigate water scarcity were the biggest talking points at this year’s BlueTech Forum. During a peer-to-peer discussion, companies said cost was a key consideration when researching water-saving projects, with some prioritising innovations which provide resource recovery, and technologies that can achieve “circular water”.

Scalable pilot studies were of high importance, with some companies leaning more towards digital technologies, including artificial intelligence – without forgetting the value of human input. There was also a warning not to focus on “magic solutions” as opposed to more realistic options.

Among delegates from the municipal and utility sectors, there was interest in membrane filtration and advanced oxidation process (AOP) technologies, with companies particularly interested in finding innovative technologies that can integrate with – and optimise - advanced treatment systems.

Attendees also spoke of their achievements made through implementing best practice and engaging employees to change the culture within their organisation. One of the biggest single themes emerging from discussions was the desire for delegates from  all industries to collaborate and share information further, to help get the most out of new innovations, help with circular economy initiatives and look towards responsible water stewardship.

No one company or even one industry can hope to influence a watershed alone – communication between various industry groups and other stakeholders is essential.

The next BlueTech Forum takes place in Vancouver, Canada in June 2020. Email [email protected] for updates.

​​Industry leaders share best practice

Menno M Holterman is chief executive on Nijhuis Industries, which delivers solutions and innovation water and wastewater projects globally. He said: “Worldwide we see a trend that water reuse is becoming mandatory for some of the major corporations.  It depends on geographical locations of course, but in areas where they’re facing a lot of water stress, availability is being seriously accessed and reviewed.”

One example is a project for the largest slaughterhouse in Poland. “Instead of discharging 8,000m3 a day of treated effluent to surface waters, we’re now installing an 8,000m3 reuse plant. The water is treated to a very high quality and recirculated back into the production facility.”

Cosmetics Company L’Oréal has rolled out a ‘dry factory’ concept to reduce water consumption in its manufacturing operations. The global cosmetics company embarked on an ambitious roll-out of water reduction in its factories worldwide and has a 2020 global goal to reduce total water consumption by 60%.

Hans-Ulrich Buchholz, environmental compliance director, said: “We had to think how to improve the reuse of water and how to close loops by developing recycling projects. Dry factory means that we reduce municipal water consumption to just two essential uses – domestic water for use of our employees and for the production of water that serves as raw material for our product. For the rest of the processes and utility uses, we do not use any additional fresh water.

“The treatment and recycling of industrial water is quite new in the cosmetics industry. High quality standards have to be strictly respected to enable the use of recycled water in utilities.
Recycling every drop of used water is economic and, under strict quality conditions, technically possible and safe to do. Ultimately we want to contribute positively in the regions where our industrial activity takes place.”

Industrial water management specialist Aquatech partnered with a major oil company in Kuwait to achieve resilience. The company required large volumes of ultrapure water to generate the steam used for enhanced oil recovery.

Devesh Sharma, managing director, said: “The facility could easily use subsidised desalinated water produced by the Government, but the carbon footprint is high. Instead they looked at taking water from the Sulaibiya wastewater reuse plant, which uses ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis to produce water for industrial uses. However, we went a step further with them and we’re now actually taking the reject wastewater stream from the Sulaibiya plant, which is used to generate the 30 million l/day of ultrapure water that they require. That’s a great example of resilience.”

Process Industry Informer

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