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More from less: building water resilience at BlueTech Forum

The theme for BlueTech Forum 2019 – Innovating Towards Resilient Water Systems – was selected as a result of conversations with participants such as Emilio Tenuta, vice president of corporate sustainability at Ecolab, and Devesh Sharma, managing director, Aquatech. Here they share their views on how resilience and innovation can help bridge the water scarcity gap.

Just last month, the head of the UK’s Environment Agency said England is facing the “jaws of death” on water scarcity in the next 25 years. There is growing awareness that the climate conversation is not just about energy and carbon emissions – fresh water availability for utilities and industry is also rising rapidly up the agenda globally.

“At Ecolab we feel that climate and water are really two sides of the same coin,” says Emilio Tenuta, vice president of corporate sustainability at Ecolab, “that is because when you think about climate change it’s largely expressed in water. As the planet warms, oceans are rising and droughts and floods are occurring with greater frequency. These factors demonstrate that climate change is also a water management issue.

“To me the key difference between CO2 and water is that carbon emissions impact the atmosphere, which is a global issue. By contrast, water issues are very localised. So, we have to develop localised solutions, because water quantity and quality vary from watershed to watershed.

“When we develop a smart water management plan for our industrial customers, it allows them to not only manage water and water-related risks, it also enables them to reduce their energy consumption because water has to be pumped, cooled, heated and treated. Smart water management not only saves water, it reduces energy usage, which ultimately leads to reductions in CO2 emissions — and that can help mitigate climate-related risks.”

Integrated solutions

Devesh Sharma, managing director of industrial water management specialist Aquatech, agrees that the core of resilience is developing holistic integrated water solutions. “You don’t solve this problem through just technology,” he explains. “The application of technology is an important part of it, but you have to look at aspects such as system design and robustness to ensure long-term operational reliability across a given site.”

“Business model innovation is also very important. This includes an approach that facilitates and incentivizes performance over the whole life-cycle of the plant to ensure that it meets its goals, not only in year one but in years five, ten and beyond.”

Ecolab, a global leader in water technology, and Aquatech are jointly sponsoring a peer-to-peer meeting of large industrial end-users of water & utilities at BlueTech Forum, and Sharma is keen to share two case studies showing how Aquatech has partnered with clients to achieve resilience. In the first, a major oil company in Kuwait had required large volumes of ultrapure water to generate the steam used for enhanced oil recovery.

“The facility could easily use subsidised desalinated water produced by the government,” he says, “but the carbon footprint is high. Instead they looked at taking water from the Sulaibiya wastewater reuse plant, which uses ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis to produce water for industrial uses.

“However, we went a step further with them and we’re now actually taking the reject wastewater stream from the Sulaibiya plant, which is used to generate the 30 million l/day of ultrapure water that they require. That’s a great example of resilience.”

Complete reuse

The second example cited by Sharma relates to a site owned and operated by one of the largest edible oil manufacturers in the world. Faced with tightening wastewater discharge regulations and limited options for source water at a major facility in India, the company is implementing complete water reuse.

“Ultimately the reuse system will let the client minimise the water that they take from outside of the fence for their product, while reusing all of the water for their utilities and ultimately applying zero discharge into the environment,” he explains.

It is estimated that global water demand will increase by 55% by 2050, and more than 40% of the global population will be living in areas of severe water stress. The number of businesses wanting to better understand their water risk and improve water management at their facilities is growing rapidly, so the leading actions taken by companies like the edible oil manufacturer are likely to become mainstream.

It is with this in mind that Ecolab launched the Smart Water Navigator, a free online tool which shows companies how their facilities are performing compared to industry-leading water management practices. The tool places each facility on a four-stage Water Maturity Curve and generates a sector- and location-specific guide with practical actions to help build sustainable, water-smart practices.

Bluetech Graph

A benchmarking function allows companies to assess how they are scoring on the Water Maturity Curve compared to others in the same industry. The Ecolab Smart Water Navigator is based on a 13-question assessment informed by leading water stewardship experts across corporations including Kimberly-Clark, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Marriott International and Johnson & Johnson, along with the United Nations and World Resources Institute.

Ambitious goals

“Ambitious goals are set at the corporate level,” says Tenuta, “but very often facility managers don’t have the tools, resources and incentives to meet expectations. The State of Green Business report, released by GreenBiz in January, showed that the global 1000 companies’ water usage is actually going up, which is bad news.

“The good news is that there was an uptake in corporate water risk disclosure. We’ll be bringing our findings from the report to BlueTech Forum and we’re expecting the Smart Water Navigator to help companies really move the needle on water use and drive resilience at the local level.”

Aquatech will be sharing learnings around a very different kind of technology that can also help companies on their journey towards water supply resilience. Drawing on its vast global experience in zero liquid discharge (ZLD), the company’s investment in membrane distillation technologies is making ZLD more economical for smaller operations.

“As you go down in size, to smaller flows and smaller industries, the need for economical ZLD systems is growing, but the solutions have been few and far between,” Sharma says. “That’s why we’ve put a lot of effort and research into developing membrane distillation technologies.

Cost-saving technology

“The next step in bringing down the cost can be achieved by concentrating water through a membrane as opposed to through a traditional, metal-based evaporation process. We’ve come out with a very robust and reliable approach that will address the difficult-to-treat waters.”

He adds, “We’re working with a couple of clients in the pharmaceutical industry on demonstration plants right now. They’re going very well, but the technology can be used everywhere from pharmaceuticals to food and beverage to oil and gas.”

Sharma says he’s looking forward to sharing this knowledge at BlueTech Forum 2019, which takes place on 5-6 June at London’s Kew Gardens. He says, “We like BlueTech Forum because it provides a great balance. We can talk technology, which is of course key to our business, but we also welcome the opportunity to have higher-level conversations about the holistic approach to water stewardship…..this is important to really push these initiatives forward.”

Emilio Tenuta agrees, “BlueTech Forum is the only conference where there’s a great collaboration of all the end-users, technology leaders and service providers. The way the roundtable discussions are managed ensures that everyone is heard.

“There’s a feeling that people are learning and leaving the conference with the networking in place and knowing which actions they need to take.”

BlueTech Forum takes place on 5-6 June at Kew Gardens, London, UK. Emilio Tenuta and Devesh Sharma will introduce the Thought Leadership Roundtables featuring 10 hot topics including leakage, big data, artificial intelligence, water reuse and resource recovery. For more information visit

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