Food & Water: Using Water Smarter

Article by Amanda Jasi

Amanda Jasi reports on a project that aims to introduce circular symbiotic arrangements between industry and water service providers

WATER is vital to life, serving industry, agriculture, and the public. But clean water scarcity is a major problem facing the world currently, with strain on the system expected to continue growing. This makes improving efficiency and protecting groundwater increasingly important.

Industry is a major water user, accounting for about 40% of water abstraction in Europe. The Chemical Engineer spoke with researchers involved in the Horizon 2020 funded project Ultimate, which aims to catalyse water smart industrial symbiosis (WSIS). Project coordinator Gerard van den Berg said this would create economic value and increased sustainability by introducing circular symbiotic arrangements between industry and water service providers. Van den Berg is a Team Manager at water research institute KWR, which leads the project.

According to van den Berg, Ultimate is one of the first projects to focus on WSIS. It comprises nine case studies in “four of the most relevant industrial sectors in Europe” –(petro)chemicals, biotechnology, agro-food, and beverages – “showcasing the potential for achieving water smart symbiosis while contributing to economic growth”.

Transformation of the traditional linear production-consumption-disposal chains to circular water systems is key to the success

While emphasis is on water, by turning wastewater into a resource, the project is also expected to achieve extraction and exploitation of energy and materials. Several of the studies include work in energy and/or materials.

Van den Berg said that circular economy aims to reduce resource depletion, environmental degradation, and potentially increased competition for scarce resources including water and embedded compounds.

“It is widely recognised that water, due to its natural origin and involvement in several processes, plays a central role in achieving these goals. We feel that transformation of the traditional linear production-consumption-disposal chains to circular water systems is key to the success.”

Cutting the salt

A case study based in Rosignano, Italy builds on the existing Aretusa collaboration which supplies Solvay’s Italian chemical production business with about 3m m3/y reclaimed wastewater for industrial use, primarily for cooling towers. This collaboration has saved about 40m m3 of water for drinking purposes since supply began.

The Aretusa plant is for tertiary treatment and receives water that has been through conventional wastewater plants in Cecina and Rosignano. Under Ultimate, the Italian project aims to maximise recovery by solving the issue of high salinity flux which hinders reuse at Solvay. This can result from seawater and other salty water intrusion into the sewer system enroute to Aretusa.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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