Every Drop Counts

Plants aim to reduce consumption and increase recycling.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Wide-ranging water optimization efforts, from fixing pipe leaks to minimizing cooling tower blowdown, are providing significant savings to chemical makers.

On March 29th, for example, BASF Research, Ludwigsafen, Germany, highlighted its latest water treatment developments at a conference there.

One of these is a pilot scheme to improve use of Rhine river water at the site. The company currently is benchmarking an existing ultrafiltration system (UF) against one that uses a novel — and unnamed — membrane fiber. In trials, the new membrane has generated lower pressure buildup, requiring 50% fewer cleanings. In addition, it provides higher flux, 114 L/m2/h, compared to 86 L/m2/h in the other unit, giving 33% additional clean water per module (Figure 1).

BASF also is investigating new flux enhancers to improve antifouling strategies with membrane bioreactors (MBR). To this end, it's developing chemical solutions to enhance MBR economics. Trials with candidate solutions already have demonstrated strong (up to 80%) reductions in reversible and irreversible fouling. In addition, the solutions have shown better filterability and dewatering properties than conventional flux enhancers.

Overall, the company is broadening its water solutions base following last August's acquisition of UF specialist Inge, Greifenberg, Germany. BASF says the two now are jointly developing novel membrane and process chemicals, and applying their combined membrane technology know-how — particularly to surface properties that influence hydrophilicity, surface tension and smoothness.

In addition, BASF has played a significant role in developing the new voluntary European Water Stewardship (EWS) standard. The European Water Partnership (EWP), Brussels, an independent non-governmental organization that focuses on international water issues and undertakes worldwide promotion of European expertise related to water, is coordinating the project.

BASF's water experts have been involved since the inception of the standard three years ago and the company has spent six months testing it in a pilot project at Ludwigshaven.

"The focus of the standard is to develop an overview of all water activities at a production site in relation to the water basin by looking at the water supply as well as water emissions, biodiversity impact or roles and responsibilities. The focus of the pilot in Ludwigshafen was to test the applicability of the standards set out in the draft under real on-site conditions. Therefore, we established a team with BASF water experts and sustainability experts supported by the EWP water stewardship team," explains Brigitte Dittrich-Krämer, senior sustainability manager at BASF.

"During the pilot the standard was further developed. The assessment criteria were discussed and the documents further improved. Now the European Water Stewardship standard is found to be comprehensive, relevant and complete," she adds.

As part of its input into the standard, BASF proposes that global companies focus its application at production sites in water-stressed regions. "Therefore, we developed a new global goal: by 2020 BASF will review its existing water-management systems at all sites located in water-stress areas worldwide and introduce new sustainable systems wherever necessary," says Dittrich-Krämer.