By Emily Newton
As industry conversations about carbon emissions, decarbonization, and climate change continue, industrial water use discussions are becoming more intense. Heavy industry is a major consumer of fresh water, accounting for around 20 percent of total global water consumption1 — a percentage that is expected to rise over the next few decades.
The right strategy can significantly increase water reuse in many industrial facilities and allow water professionals to help businesses or organizations cut down on use.
Water Shortages In These Areas Will Force Industry To Adapt
Earlier this year, as man-made lakes in the American West shrank to record-low levels2, U.S. water officials warned that several Western states might be forced to make the first official water shortage declaration. It would affect water access in Arizona and Nevada.
Experts are warning that water shortages may become business as usual3 in the future — possibly within the next few decades. They’re likely to impact companies and consumers worldwide, especially in regions where drought and low rainfall levels are already the norm.
Shifting weather patterns, climate change, and rising consumer demand have all contributed to supply-and-demand water issues. Combined with new environmental regulations, these problems may soon limit heavy industry’s ability to access water.
Analysts at some of the world’s largest firms are already developing action plans4 for a world where access to water is less reliable. Industry experts in sectors ranging from agriculture to energy production are also creating informational content about industry water consumption5, treatment, and reuse.
All businesses, regardless of size, must plan now to become more resilient and prepare for water shortages and droughts in the future. Water professionals can also learn more about reuse to build a knowledge base that can help their organizations and clients take action.
These are three methods that professionals in the water and wastewater industries use to increase reuse, decrease consumption, and make facilities more efficient. These strategies may help companies reduce water consumption by 20 to 50 percent or more.
1. Closed-Loop Water Reclamation Systems
Closed-loop systems are designed to reclaim all the water they use. They are especially effective in facilities where equipment, vehicles, and other assets need to be regularly washed, as they can streamline the recollection and reuse of wash water.
For example, reuse — as opposed to single-use — clean-in-place (CIP) systems have long been popular in the food and beverage sector6. They allow facilities to clean equipment to industry standards and federal regulations while improving the site’s water efficiency. These systems clean equipment without requiring their disassembly.
In many systems, water from the final rinse will be recirculated, carrying heat and cleaning chemicals that can make it more effective as the prerinse of other onsite equipment. Captured water can also be used for clean-out-of-place operations that require the disassembly of machinery.
By contrast, single-use CIP systems may capture used wash water but will not reuse it in cleaning. Instead, it will be immediately looped into the facility’s wastewater treatment systems.
Reuse CIP systems can make it easier to recapture and use wash water in any facility where equipment must be regularly cleaned. Similarly, finding ways to close the loop in existing systems can streamline and simplify industrial water usage.
2. Zero Liquid Discharge
Some facilities may want to go further and adopt sitewide systems that aim to minimize — or even eliminate — water use.
Zero liquid discharge (ZLD) is an engineering approach to water treatment7 that aims to recapture all site water and reduce contaminants to solid waste. Ideally, the practice eliminates liquid waste from leaving a plant, ensuring that water entering the facility remains in circulation for as long as possible.
These systems are often considered an alternative or upgrade to more conventional onsite treatment strategies, like filtration pools, which may lose water due to evaporation or incomplete filtration of wastewater streams.
The approach can be energy- and time-intensive in implementation, but advancing technology has made ZLD much more practical. For example, modern facilities striving for ZLD typically use reverse osmosis filtering in place of thermal or evaporation filtration. This reduces the amount of energy and money necessary to achieve ZLD.
3. Routine Maintenance And Equipment Upgrades
In addition to strategies that promote reuse, it’s also important to remember how inefficient equipment and leaky pipes can contribute to facility consumption by way of unaccounted-for-water.
In older facilities and places where routine maintenance has been neglected, aging equipment and water infrastructure can significantly increase loss and waste. Even equipment that was installed just 10 years ago may be considerably less efficient than modern alternatives.
Before recommending the installation of new systems and upgrades, performing an audit to identify where the facility may be losing water is an effective strategy for professionals working in older facilities.
Planning for leaks and equipment failure can also help businesses stay on top of water consumption.
How Professionals Can Help Facilities Reduce Water Waste
Growing concerns around water scarcity mean industries are taking consumption more seriously. Water professionals should be aware of existing strategies to reduce waste and steps they can take to help facilities lower consumption.
Closed-loop systems built to reclaim water, advanced ZLD approaches, and even routine maintenance can help businesses recapture and reuse site water more effectively.
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized.
- Boretti, A and Rosa, L. (2019, July 13). Reassessing the projections of the World Water Development Report. npj Clean Water. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41545-019-0039-9
- Metz, S. (2021, April 19). US West Prepares for Possible 1st Water Shortage Declaration. Associated Press. https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2021-04-17/us-west-prepares-for-possible-1st-water-shortage-declaration
- Newton, E. (2018, May 17). Reasons Why We Need to Prevent Water Scarcity. https://revolutionized.com/prevent-water-scarcity/
- Meredith, S. (2021, June 29). Why some of the world’s biggest companies are increasingly worried about water scarcity. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/29/water-scarcity-why-some-of-the-worlds-biggest-companies-are-worried.html
- Herold, N. How Sustainable Water Purification Solutions Power the Energy Sector. MECO. https://www.meco.com/how-sustainable-water-solutions-power-the-energy-sector-2/
- O’Halloran, S. (2013, November 12). Improve your operating costs and increase efficiencies with reuse clean-in-place. https://www.foodengineeringmag.com/articles/91546-improve-your-operating-costs-and-increase-efficiencies-with-reuse-clean-in-place
- Tong, T and Elimelech, M. (2016, June 8). The Global Rise of Zero Liquid Discharge for Wastewater Management: Drivers, Technologies, and Future Directions. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.6b01000