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A Global Thirst: Water Use In Industry

August 24, 2017
A Global Thirst
Every single day the demand for water grows. It is the most vital of our resources, from our direct need to consume it to the vast quantities required by our agriculture and industry. Where our land was once irrigated by the stately flow of our rivers, now our thirst has driven us underground to the deep reserves below our feet. Yet many of those deep wells of water are being depleted faster than nature can refill them.

These difficulties come in the face of a global population estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. With this growth comes the parallel rise in demand for clean water, food and energy. The majority of our demand for water is driven by agriculture, accounting for a huge 70% of our global consumption. However industry accounts for nearly 20% of our fresh water needs, and there are indications this demand will rise.


An Industrial Thirst


A study of current water usage poses a startling challenge. In advanced economies as much as 45% of all water demand is generated by industry. As we move towards a future of more industrialised nations, this could have far reaching consequences. If we are to address this challenge then industry must not only be more efficient in the water that we use, but be willing to explore the great possibilities provided by water reuse.

Water reuse however poses some unique challenges. Strict water regulations, while providing necessary legislation around delivery of potable water to our homes, can create unnecessary barriers in use of wastewater for industry. Effluent water, known as ‘greywater’, is generated through wastewater municipal treatment plants, treated and discharged. Yet over 95% of grey water is simply discharged into surface ponds.

However greywater can provide a valuable opportunity for water reuse in non-potable applications within industry. Addressing regulatory standards would not only allow for efficient reuse of this greywater but reduce the burden on freshwater supplies. This policy has already shown great success in Singapore. Their Bedok NEWater reuse plant provides wastewater for industry, using GE’s ZeeWeed membrane technology to reliably remove suspended solids from water. Initiatives like this are why Singapore now boasts production of more than 100 million gallons a day of recycled water for industrial, commercial and domestic use.

Water reuse is not limited to a national scale. At Frito Lay’s Casa Grande facility, Arizona, they utilise a ZeeWeed membrane bioreactor and reverse osmosis system from GE that treats and recycles 648,000 gallons per day. This solution helped achieve ambitious renewable targets, including a 90% reduction in water and electricity usage. The plant has the distinction of being the first existing food manufacturing site in the United States to achieve LEED EB environmental Gold Certification.

Water reuse has also shown impressive benefits within the oil and gas industry. In 2015 the Carigali-PTTEPI Operating Company was honoured with an ecomagination award by General Electric, recognising its positive environmental impact for its success in water reuse on a natural gas platform in the Gulf of Thailand. By installing advanced GE cooling and chemical treatment technology the company were able to save 132,000 gallons of water and $52 million a year by reducing platform downtime.


A Thirst For Energy


The UN estimates that as much as 8% of global energy is used to lift, pump and treat groundwater and wastewater. In the US alone power generation facilities withdraw 136 billion gallons a day, but consume just 4 billion, often in once-through cooling water systems. Yet on average a single large wastewater treatment plant could satisfy the cooling demand for one power plant, reducing freshwater withdrawal and energy consumption in the process.

Looking at this nexus of water and energy provides a unique opportunity. As demand for water increases the efficiency of production is directly linked to its energy requirements. It’s for this reason that GE recently acquired the bioenergy firm Monsal.  The advanced anaerobic digestion technology provided by Monsal in combination with GE’s ultra-efficient Jenbacher gas engines provides the opportunity for biosolids captured in the wastewater treatment process to be converted to renewable forms of energy. It is energy neutral wastewater.


Meeting The Rising Challenge


As demand for water grows so too do the challenges in meeting that demand. The solution cannot be found simply in conservation of existing water supplies, it must also come through better reuse of the water we already consume.

Only with smart, efficient technology and water reuse can we meet this demand. GE does this by delivering a comprehensive, integrated approach to wastewater management, delivering improved operational efficiency, enhanced life cycle value and a reduced environmental footprint.

In facing this challenge the whole of industry has a role to play. And with water demand determined to rise, industry must be equally determined in rising to the challenge of meeting it.