Protecting Our Planet Daily: Water And Wastewater Technologies At The Forefront Of Sustainability

Source: Water Online

By Kevin Westerling,

In recognition of Earth Day, Water Online spoke with Teresa Ortigosa, Global Sustainability Director at Veolia Water Technologies and Solutions, on environmental issues that are particularly relevant to water and wastewater management. Teresa is responsible for developing and implementing the company’s sustainability strategy, leading and overseeing its progress on sustainability, and providing cross-functional support to achieve meet multiple stakeholder targets on decarbonization, depollution, and resource recovery. Read on for her thoughts on the planet’s biggest environmental threats, recommended practices to make us more sustainable, and some technology solutions to help enable the transition.   

Why is addressing environmental challenges crucial for our planet?

Teresa Ortigosa
With Earth Day reminding us of our collective responsibility, addressing environmental challenges is crucial for maintaining the health and resilience of our planet. Environmental issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution are not just ecological concerns; they profoundly impact social and economic spheres, especially marginalized communities.

These challenges require urgent action to mitigate adverse impacts and avoid irreversible damage. Promoting environmental sustainability involves developing innovative water solutions that help regenerate ecosystems, create economic opportunities through green jobs, and ensure equitable access to safe, clean water. Earth Day underscores the ongoing commitment needed beyond just one day of action, a reminder that we all have roles in protecting our planet daily.

What are the key environmental issues today, and what measures are being taken to resolve them?

The growing pressures from population growth, urbanization, and climate change highlight the increasing importance and necessity of water reuse technologies. Innovations such as advanced membrane technologies (reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, forward osmosis) alongside ozonation, biofiltration, and advanced oxidation processes are transforming wastewater into high-quality potable water, supporting both direct and indirect potable reuse.

These technologies are essential in addressing the interconnected challenges of climate change, resource depletion, and water scarcity. With only 5.5% of global energy produced by renewable resources, integrating energy-efficient practices in water treatment such as solar and wind energy, can further enhance the sustainability of these processes. As the global population increases, the urgency for sustainable solutions to ensure a stable water supply becomes more critical.

However, the adoption of these technologies is hindered by significant challenges, including technical complexities like membrane fouling and high energy demands, environmental concerns over by-product disposal such as concentrated brine, and socio-economic hurdles like infrastructure costs and public skepticism around recycled water safety. Overcoming these barriers requires not just technological advancement but also regulatory reforms, public education to shift perceptions, and strategic financial investment and incentives.

How do micropollutants affect our water systems and health?

Micropollutants pose a significant challenge to water systems by disrupting the hormonal balance of aquatic life, which can lead to altered growth and reproductive patterns. This can ultimately disrupt food webs and reduce biodiversity. The presence of pharmaceuticals can encourage the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, further complicating the health of aquatic ecosystems.

To combat these issues, advanced water treatment technologies are essential. We utilize systems such as ZeeLung* membrane aerated bioreactors (MABRs) and ZeeWeed* membrane bioreactors (MBRs), which have been key advancements by our experts who are at the forefront of water treatment technology. We’ve also developed solutions for the circular economy, like Memgas*, which enables the recovery of energy from wastewater through the production of biogas, and introduced digital management solutions like the Hubgrade* platform, which provides real-time monitoring, data analysis, and optimization of water systems. We’re working hard to develop the next generation of water solutions that are aimed at making a global impact.

What role do water treatment technologies play in global decarbonization efforts?

Water treatment technologies play an essential but often overlooked role in enabling global decarbonization efforts. Advanced technologies like membrane filtration, advanced oxidation, and energy-efficient aeration significantly reduce water treatment facilities' energy consumption and carbon footprint. Integrating energy recovery systems along with these optimizations helps decrease the overall energy demand and emissions from water management processes.

These technologies also facilitate the reuse and recycling of water, which cuts down on the energy-intensive processes needed for sourcing, transporting, and treating water. Reusing treated wastewater in industrial processes, agricultural irrigation, and even as drinking water helps lessen our reliance on less sustainable water sources such as desalination. Proper water treatment is also vital in renewable energy production, like hydropower and biofuels, ensuring these systems operate efficiently and without issues like fouling and corrosion. Water treatment also plays a pivotal role in carbon capture and storage operations by preparing solvents and managing wastewater, aiding industries with high CO2 emissions in reducing their environmental impact.

Effective water treatment not only makes better use of water but also helps protect our natural water ecosystems. These ecosystems are crucial carbon sinks that are instrumental in combating climate change. Keeping these systems healthy supports our broader sustainability goals and helps us build resilience against climate impacts.

What are the latest innovations in water reuse and their implementation challenges?

Water reuse technologies are critical for addressing water scarcity and promoting sustainability. As pressures on water resources increase due to population growth, urbanization, and climate change, the importance of these technologies continues to grow exponentially. Innovations such as advanced membrane technologies, including reverse osmosis, nanofiltration, and forward osmosis, have evolved to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of treating and reusing wastewater. These are complemented by additional advanced treatment processes like ozonation, biofiltration, and advanced oxidation, which are now utilized to transform treated wastewater into high-quality potable water. This practice supports both direct and indirect potable reuse and expands the potential applications of recycled water.

Despite these advancements, the widespread implementation of water reuse technologies faces several challenges. The process complexities, such as membrane fouling and the energy demands of these systems, remain significant. Environmental concerns also persist, particularly with the disposal of byproducts like concentrated brine streams. Beyond the technical and environmental hurdles, there are substantial socio-economic challenges, including the need for significant infrastructure investment and the ongoing struggle for public acceptance. Many people remain skeptical about the safety and quality of recycled water, especially for drinking purposes, and regulatory barriers can further complicate the adoption of these technologies.

A multifaceted approach is necessary for these technologies to be more broadly adopted. This includes not only continuous technological advancements but also regulatory reforms, enhanced public education to shift perceptions, and strategic financial incentives to offset initial costs. Collaboration among governments, utilities, industries, and communities is vital to seamlessly integrate water reuse into regional and global water management frameworks, supporting the achievement of long-term sustainability goals.

Teresa Ortigosa, Global Sustainability Director at Veolia Water Technologies and Solutions, began her tenure at the company in 2015 as a Product Manager for Circular Economy Technologies. Prior to her current role, she also worked as a Strategic Marketing Leader for Solutions and Markets with High Sustainability Value. Teresa holds a master’s degree in Energy and Environment Engineering and an executive master’s in Creative Process and Innovation.