Freshwater availability is a concern across the globe, from developing nations to first-world countries. In South Africa, the contamination of water resources through pollution and industrial wastewater is one of the biggest threats to a sustainable water supply across the country.
According to Watericon’s General Manager, Chris Ashmore, many communities in South Africa still rely on untreated or insufficiently treated water from surface resources, such as rivers and lakes for their daily supply. These communities have no or limited access to adequate sanitation facilities and are at a high risk to waterborne diseases.
“Wastewater from manufacturing or chemical processes in industries is a major contributor to water pollution,” says Ashmore.
Watericon, a South African-based water treatment company that provides a full range of water and process treatment services for the industrial, municipal and residential sectors, works across different sectors and industries to solve water-related challenges.
According to the United Nations World Water Development Report, industry accounts for 22% of all global water withdrawals. This varies from 59% in high-income countries, to 8% in low-income countries, but the cause is the same: Industrial and manufacturing wastewater that is released back into the environment as effluent.
The same report states that each year, tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge, and other accumulated wastes from industrial production get into freshwater supplies. The report also states that in some developing countries, 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into streams and rivers, where they pollute drinking water
Industrial water is used for fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, or transporting a product. Water is also used by smelting facilities, petroleum refineries, and industries producing chemical products, food, and paper products. The industries that use the most water are food, paper, and chemicals.
“During these processes, many different chemical compounds are added to water,” explains Ashmore. “The result is that industrial wastewater usually contains specific and readily identifiable chemical compounds, many of which are highly toxic to the environment and people.”
Reducing water consumption and increasing resource efficiency
Industrial and manufacturing processes are critical to the development and growth of countries and communities, but it’s also clear that the water used for these processes needs to be treated, used and reintroduced to local water supplies in a far safer and more efficient way.
“The traditional investment, planning, design and operations that go into using and treating water in industry and manufacturing are linear in nature,” explains Ashmore. “Water is extracted from the source, quality checked, used and then the wastewater is treated and discharged in a receiving water body. The problem is that a large amount of valuable water is lost in the process, and as we’ve seen, far too many toxins are still making their way into surface water resources.
“Depending on the industry, wastewater and its discharged sludge contains a huge number of valuable resources, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, energy and other nutrients that can be recovered and reused in a circular economy that protects scarce and threatened resources. In this model, the focus is placed on reducing water consumption and achieving the overall objective of resource efficiency.”
Environmental and economic benefits
Recycling techniques include return waste material to the original process, using waste material as a raw material substitute for another process, processing waste material for resource recovery and even processing waste material as a by-product. There are also solutions that treat water sources before they enter the industrial process.
“There are enormous benefits to cleaner production,” says Ashmore. “The environmental benefits are clear, but there are economic business benefits as well.”
These include increased profits, improved marketability, lower expenditure on materials and resources, additional sources of income, increased quality and greater productivity, better customer service, and increased goodwill from being seen as a responsible member of the community.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution for treating and recovering water,” explains Ashmore. “Each plant that we work with has a different challenge, but ultimately the goal is to reduce water consumption, increase resource efficiency, cut costs and reduce the facility’s overall environmental impact.”
Local solutions to local challenges
One example of Watericon’s solutions in action was implemented at a R1.8 billion cement manufacturing plant in Limpopo that struggles with high hardness levels in the local available water sources.
“The facility has an on-site waste heat recovery system, which generates 23% of the power required to operate the plant,” says Ashmore. “Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium.”
These high hardness levels were causing scaling in the plant’s heat exchange units, impacting condensers, coolers, cooling towers and boilers, reducing the work rate of the plant’s equipment and systems and impacting its on-site heat recovery system.
“An on-site waste heat recovery system ensuring that the plant has a substantially lower impact on the environment, but high hardness levels in the available water sources were significantly impacting the ability of the plant to perform optimally.”
At first the client engaged us to constantly clean their condensers which were completely blocked up with scale. But this was more of a reactive solution and did not get down in fixing the root cause of the problem. After 6 months of trialling sustainable solutions the 2.6MLD process plant was launched.
Watericon’s successful implementation of this process plant was key to a reduction of downtime, plant maintenance, more efficient processes and ultimately cost savings.