In a recent speech by Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, the ex-diplomat warned that in around 20 to 25 years, England’s demand for water will outstrip supply. In some countries this will happen even sooner.
Tackling the water gap is something which has to be considered holistically, and no single approach can solve what is a global and widespread issue.
It is abundantly clear that the crisis is imminent, so much so that businesses around the world have already begun to make significant investment in preparing for the inevitable.
Water treatment and reuse can form part of an industry wide attempt to prevent further pollution of water sources, reduce the amount of water that is consumed, and make head-way in minimising the water gap.
The process industry relies heavily on water and can play a huge role in safeguarding it for future generations. Process engineers are continuously looking to improve efficiencies, streamline processes and ultimately maximise profits, and wastewater treatment which allows water reuse can have a significant impact.
Effective wastewater treatment
More than 80% of the world’s wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated or reused, according to the United Nations.
Wastewater treatment not only eliminates dangerous chemicals such as Endocrine Disruptors and Active Pharmaceuticals, but the treated water can often be reused in industry for irrigation or cleaning purposes.
Traditional wastewater treatment methods can partly eliminate or remove industrial chemicals, but some traces are still detectable in effluents.
The final stage of water treatment, when only trace levels of pollutants reside in wastewater, has always been challenging. A significant number of tertiary wastewater treatment processes such as Ozone with Hydrogen Peroxide and Fentons use doses of chemicals to eliminate trace level compounds.
This brings with it a substantial operating cost along with a toxic, sludge-like by-product which similarly needs to be treated. Paradoxically, this sludge then needs to be incinerated which is equally as damaging to the environment.
Targeting the top %
Fortunately, there are now greener alternatives which remove the need for dangerous chemicals, trucking and incineration of secondary wastes.
The environmentally friendly alternatives are also facilitating the reuse of wastewater in industrial processes across a variety of sectors, including the pharmaceutical, oil and gas, cosmetics, brewing, textile, food and drink and many others.
For multi-national industries that often come under scrutiny, such as chemical, oil and gas and pharmaceutical manufacturers - effectively treating wastewater before it enters the environment can play a huge role in dramatically reducing the levels of pollutants ending up in the environment, as well as protecting valuable organisational reputation.
The problem with traditional wastewater treatment processes is that they only partly remove recalcitrant pollutants, leaving detectable traces in effluents. The standard measure of water contamination is known as the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), which measures organic pollutants as milligrams per litre (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm).
Present regulations specify strict limits of COD for water to be discharged to sewers or the environment, and failure to fulfil regulation can lead to a loss of permit, operational downtime, limited production volume and severe fines.
Primary and secondary treatment removes around 75-85% of the COD, but the hard-to-treat COD remains. Typically, legislation for COD discharge is from below 120ppm in the EU and as strict as 30ppm for certain provinces in China.
State of the art options now exist for the reduction of hard-to-treat organics from water and wastewater streams. The Nyex™-a technology applies adsorption and electrochemical oxidation, providing an environmentally considerate process that treats water without the need to dose chemicals.
The water passes down through the bed of carbon-based, conductive media where a low electric current is applied. The electrical activity oxidises the contaminants which are localised on the surface of the media so that there are no residues or sludge to worry about, dispose of or incinerate.
This also means that treated water is also safe for reuse for other purposes around the manufacturing facility, such as for cleaning or irrigation; uses where chemically dosed water is often unsuitable.
The technology makes it possible to tackle part per million to part per billion ranges of APIs, pharmaceutical residues, endocrine disruptors, personal care products, manufacturing chemicals and pesticides.
A holistic standpoint
Significant potable supplies, presently designated for use by industry, could also be redirected to public use. Lawns, pathways and cars could be maintained, without massively expensive infrastructure disruption. Simply ridding industrial waste of harmful or undesirable characteristics and trace contaminants could add countless millions of litres to the nations’ supply.
Ultimately, ensuring water quality for this and future generations will necessitate corroboration from governments, industry and water treatment providers. Water treatment which enables water reuse is one portion of a global problem which must to be acknowledged by governments, businesses and consumers alike.
Working holistically, the water gap can be significantly reduced with wastewater treatment providing a significant contribution.
The onus now falls on the process industry to reassess their wastewater treatment procedures to ensure they are in alignment with the most environmentally-friendly and cost-effective options, balancing the scales between demand and supply.
Arvia Technology works with process engineers in the UK, Europe and Asia. It has treated challenging wastewater from the agricultural, chemical, electronics, oil and gas and pharmaceutical industries in Europe and Asia.