If water consumption continues to increase, the resulting statistics are a wake-up call: by the year 2020, water demand will exceed supply by 470 trillion gallons, and the United Nations projects that 2.8 billion people around the world will be living in water-scarce areas by 2025. In other words, within 10 to 15 years we will not have enough available water to sustain our businesses and quality of life.
But there are ways we can reverse the trend. Industry plays a large role in the quest for a sustainable water supply, and water reuse affords both economic and environmental benefits to those who embrace it.
Understanding that water challenges vary by region, industry and municipality, we need to continually advance monitoring and diagnostic capabilities and technology systems that can be used globally for capturing, treating and reusing severely impaired waters in an effort to create sustainable water supplies and address water availability, quality and its impact on the environment.
HOW REUSE WORKS
Water is used in virtually every form of industrial processing – manufacturing, mining, oil and gas drilling, electrical production, etc. On a global level, almost 20 percent of our precious freshwater resources are drawn upon for industrial purposes. With the incorporation of proper technologies and systems – membrane- based systems; thermal evaporation, crystallization and bio polishing; and wastewater recovery systems – industrial plants can capture, purify and reuse their wastewater in order to reduce the amount of freshwater withdrawal.
Even the toughest and most challenging waters – frac, oil sands, coal bed methane, grey water, etc. – can be effectively treated and reused. Through electrodialysis reversal (EDR), GE Water’s systems are achieving up to 94 percent water recovery, while removing 40 to 90 percent of total dissolved solids. By removing these contaminants – pharmaceuticals, mercury, saline, silica, oils, etc. – properly reclaimed and treated water can then be reused for other purposes such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, industrial processes, toilet flushing or groundwater recharge, which significantly lessens demands on freshwater sources, creates the ability to adhere to zero-liquid discharge regulations and, in essence, generates a personal and sustainable water supply for one’s own industrial use.
MAKING THE INVESTMENT
Furthering its knowledge and ability to treat the most challenging of waters – mines, unconventional gas, oil sands and refineries – GE Water recently entered a partnership with the Alberta Water Research Institute (AWRI) in Alberta, Canada, to work with the local community, government and industry to help drive innovative ways of water reuse. The water initiative will build on technologies already in use in the oil sands, including advanced membranes, thermal evaporation systems, mobile filtration units and water treatment chemistry.
A second, and simultaneous, initiative in Alberta is the development and launch of an executive educational program for business executives on advanced water management strategies. Global business leaders and some of the world’s top water management talent are being brought together to share case studies and best practices, which in turn could lead to improved environmental management strategies and practices around the world. Further, all solutions and findings from the research and demonstration project will be publicly available, helping advance the understanding and adoption of efficient and cost-effective water reuse practices on a global level.
REALIZING THE URGENCY
Whatever drivers or motivators a company has in implementing water reuse technologies – whether it’s a lack of water availability and need to create a sustainable water supply, to be more efficient, meet current or upcoming regulations, be a more responsible and environmentally focused business or municipality, etc. – the technologies and knowledge exist to make it happen. But it’s a decision that shouldn’t be made tomorrow or next week – it’s a solution that needs to be adopted now.
In addition to an increase in water demand, it is estimated that demand for electricity will double in the next 20 years and, as large amounts of water are required to produce electricity, demand for water to generate this electricity will triple in the same timeframe. With this in mind – and a continued increase of industrial and population growth – severe water scarcity will occur. This looming phenomenon calls for continued collaboration of government, industry, academics and nonprofit organizations and municipalities on a global level to further support the implementation of available and advancing technologies.
Jeff Fulgham is Chief Marketing Officer, GE Water & Process Technologies. for information visit www.gewater.com.