A practical approach for Water Management in an industrial facility

Every industry depends on and creates an impact on water resources. Some industries use water to process raw materials and manufacture goods. Some others use it for steam production, for cooling and for cleaning. Finally, for some industries it is a central ingredient in the goods they produce.

The future of industry depends on the sustainability of water resources, which are increasingly under pressure. Globally, per capita availability of freshwater is steadily decreasing and the trend will inevitably continue as the world’s population swells, emerging economies increase consumption levels and climate change unfolds.

The global business community increasingly recognizes the water challenge, but to respond effectively it needs guidance, tools and standards to enable the change to more sustainable practices.

Many initiatives and concepts have emerged to address this need, driven by business leaders, civil society and governments. It is time for us, the water treatment specialists, to support our customers in sustainable water management.

The water management needs of a company are usually related to:

  • Measure water use and assess water-related impacts (i.e. costs, environmental, etc)
  • Identify risks and opportunities related to water use and water related impacts
  • Develop options for responding to these challenges

A practical approach to assist our customers in improving their water management is briefly described below.

The approach should be discussed first with the people we know in the plant. But if our contacts are focusing only at partial aspects of water management (i.e. if they are only responsible for the boilers or the cooling or the wastewater) it will be important to discuss our approach with a member of the management team that can recognize and appreciate the value of this service.

If the management accepts to implement our approach, the benefits for us can be multiple:

  • we will be recognized as consultants to the company, offering value added services
  • we will have access to higher levels of management in the customer’s organization
  • we will be able to identify other chemical treatment and/or other water treatment equipment opportunities in the plant

The approach includes five distinct steps and each step is described below in brief:

  1. Assessment of current water use (quantities and qualities)

Collect data related to water use and prepare a Water Mass Balance. The Water Mass Balance includes all incoming water streams (quantity and quality) and all outgoing water rejection (quantity and quality) as well as all water uses inside the plant. The cost of fresh water  to the plant and the cost of discharging water should be included in the collected data.

The methodology to be followed is the “classical” engineering approach on mass balance of water, including ionic balance (quantitative and qualitative).

The assessment will result in:

  • Water inlets and outlets from the plant
  • Water uses in the production (process water) and in auxiliary activities (boilers, cooling, wastewater treatment)
  • Problems associated with each stream and application (insufficient water quantity, insufficient water quality, violation of environmental control limits, issues of scaling, corrosion, microbiological, etc)
  1. Opportunities for improvement

Identify the risks and opportunities of the current situation (benchmarking data for similar industries or applications can also be used, if available).

The assessment will result in a list of opportunities:

  • for reducing water consumption (i.e. decreasing blowdown in cooling or boilers),
  • for reusing some water (i.e. boiler blowdown used as part of cooling system make-up water, if suitable in quality)
  • for recycling the water (i.e. passing cooling system blowdown or plant wastewater through an RO unit to recover water)
  • for solving problems associated with water use (improving scaling, corrosion, microbiological issues, improving water quality by installation of processes such as filtration, softening, dealkalization, RO, etc)
  • for avoiding or correcting a violation of environmental impact related to water
  1. List of Improvement projects

Clarify the technical solutions and propose actions to address the listed opportunities. Each proposed action is complemented with data on expected benefits and resources required (budget and time).

The assessment will result in a table of possible projects:

  • The problem to be solved (the opportunity to be addressed)
  • A brief description of the project
  • The estimated budget
  • The expected benefits (in monetary terms but also in quality improvements)
  • The estimated time required for implementation
  1. Prioritization & Commitment

Discuss with the company management the list of improvement projects. Ask them to rank the improvement projects according to their priorities. For the 1-2 top priority projects, clarify if they can commit to a time table of implementation and ask them to assign one of their staff the responsibility of implementation with a budget and a time frame.

This step should result in

  • The Table of Projectσ with management priorities
  • At least one project selected for implementation with a budget and a responsible project manager
  1. Implementation & evaluation of results

Assist the project manager in the implementation of the project, i.e.:

  • In specifying the technical solution and the equipment required
  • In obtaining offers from reliable suppliers
  • In evaluating the supplier offers

After the completion of the project assist the project manager in evaluating the results and documenting the improvements and realized benefits.

Points to remember

  • Water is an important resource in almost all production processes
  • Water Management issues (water availability, water quality requirements, environmental impact) are issues that interest the management team of any production company that uses water
  • A Water Management Study, as described above, provides concrete benefits to the customer and to us (increases our visibility, allows us to identify other sales opportunities in the plant)
  • The Water Management Study can be offered to our customer as a paid consultancy project (this option will depend on our relationship and our business approach with each customer)