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Giving Wastewater a Second Chance

To many of us, access to clean water is a given. This however, is not the case for a significant number of people around the world. The booming industrial growth across the globe has also caused water to become a strategic resource1. Here are some quick facts:

The world’s population is expectedto increase from 7 billion in 2014 to 9 billion in 20502

  • 97% of water on our Earth is saline water in oceans; only 3% can be counted as freshwater3
  • 748 million people worldwide lack access to an improved water supply4
  •  2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation4

This has opened up opportunities and possibilities for companies such as GE to find solutions to the water issues being faced globally. As part of these efforts, GE has established global water technology centres, one of which is located in Singapore.

 

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GE Reports recently spoke to Dr. Adil M Dhalla, Director of the GE Singapore Water Technology Centre, who leads the centre’s efforts in water treatment innovation and industrial wastewater reuse to help address global and regional water scarcity issues. We wanted to get a better understanding into the work conducted at the centre in Singapore and how it could potentially help solve the problem of water scarcity, 

GE Reports MY (GE): Hello Adil, and thanks for joining us. So first things first – what exactly is a “Water Tech Centre” and how did this project come about?

Adil Dhalla (AD):  Hi, thanks for having me. A water technology centre is a place where we carry out research and industry innovation in water treatment. Some of our work includes innovation in water recycling and reuse, wastewater treatment, and advanced analytical solutions.

Singapore is a very densely populated island, with limited ability to store natural water resources5 – making water management a huge challenge, and hence one of the key priorities for the government. The government has been very active in encouraging the development of global water technology solutions in Singapore. This centre was set up in 2009, on the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Our technology development focuses on recycling and reuse solutions for both domestic and industrial sectors. At the end of the day, we want to develop not just chemicals, membranes or equipment, but a combination of these and other enablers, to solve real problems and challenges.

 

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GE: You mentioned about some of your areas of focus, care to elaborate?

AD: Our focus areas include Advanced Applications Technology, Analytical Technology, and Membrane Chemicals.

The Applications Technology team looks at developing new solutions for efficient seawater desalination, water reclamation and optimization of water reuse. The team works on a wide array of technologies over the entire product development spectrum. Some of the solutions we develop include various combinations of pressure driven separations (e.g. Reverse Osmosis and Nanofiltration), Ultrafiltration, Membrane Bioreactors, Electro-separation systems, and membrane chemicals.

We have an Analytical Technology Lab, a critical component of our centre, which provides analytical chemistry and scientific support to our technology team, and also GE’s Asia Pacific commercial team. This includes research and development into membrane autopsy, corrosion testing and analyses of wastewater.

In several cases, there is no one size fits all solution to our customers’ needs. Every issue that a customer brings to us is unique and we challenge ourselves to find best possible solution through innovative thinking.  What we want to provide is solutions, not just, say, chemicals, membranes or equipment, but a combination of these and other enablers, to solve a real problem or challenge.  In today’s world, the understanding of how to approach a scientific challenge or problem is almost always a multi-disciplinary approach.

 

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GE:What is the biggest challenge when it comes to treating wastewater and what efforts are being taken to overcome them?

AD: Let us talk of two scenarios – Industrial wastewater and municipal wastewater.

Most industrial processes are complex, and the final wastewater has generally been through various unit operations. One needs to, first minimize the total amount of wastewater, by point source treatment at the unit operations where the wastewater is generated, leading to reuse/recycle options.  For the final treatment of the minimized wastewater, the key is a robust, low-footprint, efficient process.

For municipal (domestic) wastewater, there has been a significant increase in reuse, not only in Singapore, but also globally.  Keeping this in mind, the key challenges are in developing low-footprint energy efficient solutions, which maximize the quality and yield of product water.

 

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GE: How far has the water technology centre come in the last 5 years?

AD: Over the past couple of years, we have steadily developed and expanded our capabilities in Water Technology.

Our Analytical Technology laboratory, which is ISO 17025 accredited by SAC-SINGLAS and ISO9001:2008 certified, employs experts in a variety of fields, including analytical chemistry, biochemistry and metallurgical analysis. This group works closely with the rest of the technology team on new products and processes, and also supports our commercial team’s efforts to offer effective and efficient solutions for our customers. The team offers a comprehensive array of industrial analytical solutions that include membrane autopsy/characterization; corrosion coupons testing; analyses of various types of water and wastewater, microbes, hydrocarbons, ion exchange resins, deposits and complex organics; metallurgy, and surface and failure analysis.

The results from membrane autopsy and characterization activities give key insights into the causes of membrane fouling. The team leverages these findings to develop new membrane cleaning solutions for GE’s global customers.

The centre’s applications technology team has a wide range of skills in engineering (chemical, electrical and mechanical) and chemistry.  This team leverages its expertise in GE Water & Process Technologies’ broad range of engineered systems (including reverse osmosis, nano-filtration, electro-separations, ultrafiltration and membrane bioreactors), to develop and pilot solutions for reducing energy usage, increasing water reuse and recycling in both municipal and industrial sectors, and for tough to treat wastewater.

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GE: You’ve been at the helm of the centre for the past five years, what would you say are some of the centre’s best practices and how can they be implemented in other regions?

AD: The two best practices, not only at our centre, but across GE globally, are collaboration and communication.

Water technology, like all multi-disciplinary research areas, requires our scientists and engineers from varied backgrounds to combine their skills and come up with advanced solutions.  All activities at our centre are in close collaboration with our global technology team, and alsoour regional and global functional organizations.

Singapore has clearly developed into a “global hydro-hub”, and we work closely with Singapore government agencies, to identify, and develop solutions for key water challenges, which would be applicable not only in Singapore, but also globally.

Our close partnership with the National University of Singapore, on whose campus we are located, has enabled us to leverage their distinguished faculty’s skills and experience in key areas, for several of our projects.  We have learned from each other. The centre is also a training ground for several interns and post-doctoral associates.

Sources

1 http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2013/02/28/geocharts-water-challenges-around-the-world/

2 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/18/world-population-new-study-11bn-2100

3 http://water.usgs.gov/edu/earthhowmuch.html

4 WHO/UNICEF, Millennium Development Goals, 2015 Report on Water & Sanitation, Joint Monitoring Program, Geneva – “Water, sanitation and hygiene: WASH Post 2015,” http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/JMP-A5-English-2pp.pdf

5 https://www.edb.gov.sg/content/edb/en/news-and-events/news/singapore-business-news/Feature/Singapores-four-solutions-for-water-scarcity.html

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