As always, the start of a new year brings the promise of new technological solutions for the water and wastewater treatment industries. In 2018, it’s likely that a large area of focus for these innovations will be greater efficiency and sustainability.
To get a better sense of where these advancements are most needed and most likely to occur, here is a rundown of what to expect in 2018.
The practice of wastewater reuse is hardly anything new in 2018. It has long been a focus for researchers, utilities, and regulators as an opportunity to make our society more sustainable and cost-efficient. But it’s also a practice that will have to make significant strides this year, as stresses on our water supplies continue to develop.
“Growing water demand by expanding population and industry, in parallel to global climate changes, puts more pressure on the natural water sources,” said Lior Eshed, a process engineer with IDE Technologies, which provides reuse solutions for treatment operations. “In many arid and semi-arid areas … the natural water sources cannot supply current and future demand — there is simply not enough supply by rainfall, rivers, and other natural sources… Therefore, water authorities and stakeholders are looking for alternative sources and ways to augment the current water sources in order to avoid the possible occurrence of groundwater salting and seawater intrusion as a result of depleting aquifer water levels.”
After years of consumer concerns about “toilet to tap” sources, many within the industry are hopeful that direct and indirect potable reuse practices will become both more palatable and more technologically efficient in 2018. Eshed cited an estimate that California alone is currently planning 363 water reuse projects.
He also noted that industrial operations now seek to increase the recovery of their produced water to above 80 percent and will be turning to more advanced technology to do so. Pulse flow reverse osmosis (RO), for instance, is a practice that could gain popularity in 2018. By operating with short bursts of RO, this allows operations to prevent crystals from forming on their membranes, preventing fouling and allowing for more rapid wastewater recovery.
Going hand-in-hand with the motivations behind higher wastewater reuse, 2018 is likely to see a reduction in the amount of water that industrial operations and municipalities pump from underground aquifers. After years of over-pumping these supplies, leading to sustained drought and other environmental issues, it’s high time we found a new solution.
While technologies to make our utilization of water resources more efficient will be paramount, regulatory approaches need to evolve as well.
“Groundwater aquifers are usually large and, in many cases, extend beyond the border of the local authority or state,” said Eshed. “Therefore, in order to have a sustainable water system, a centralistic approach is required in order to see the overall picture, foresee the future supply, and demand and design accordingly… In many places in the U.S., there are many water rights owners that are not tightly regulated.”
It is hard to imagine that source water rights and pumping practices will become any more centralized under the current political climate. But it’s possible that efforts led by the industrial and municipal treatment sectors will make progress in 2018.
Eshed listed public education efforts around water saving, efforts to combat non-revenue water on the infrastructure level, and improved efficiency at industrial operations as recent advances that may help curb groundwater over-pumping.
The prospect of seawater desalination as a panacea, or turning the world’s abundant oceanic source supplies into a potable option, should move closer to reality in 2018. As desalination technology gets more potent and affordable, its popularity will increase as well.
“Seawater desalination has become increasingly popular in the past 15 years, as technology advanced and production rates dropped to about 50 cents to $1 per cubic meter,” Eshed said. “Very large installations were built, especially in the Middle East. After a pause of a few years in the demand for mega desalination projects, it is expected that there will be an increase in demand for such applications again.”
But as the practice, which can have substantial environmental costs, gains popularity this year, it will be important that it does so in an efficient and sustainable way.
“Desalination is an industrial process that consumes energy and chemicals,” said Eshed. “In order to lower the impact of such processes on the environment, both locally — as in chemical usage and release to the environment — and globally, having the greenest possible desalination process is environmentally responsible as well as more cost effective.”
Eshed sees the use of the larger, high-pressure pumps; energy recovery instruments; a split of permeate to front and rear; and a biologically-active pretreatment process that eliminates the need for coagulant dosage as methods that can make desalination more efficient in 2018.
Image credit: "Water," IsabellaFlore, 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/