Every Drop Counts

Plants aim to reduce consumption and increase recycling.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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LESS RIVER WATER
Figure 2. Recycled industrial and sanitary gray water have displaced much potable water at Air Products' Edmonton plant.
Source: Air Products.

Interestingly, the pilot scheme didn't focus on technical measures to reduce water use. Rather, it looked at improving the understanding of sustainable water management, to incorporate the needs of the chemical industry into a European approach for sustainable water management and to gain early experience in implementing a new water stewardship system.

"The European Water Stewardship standard provides BASF with a framework to advance our sustainable water management at production site level, as well as to evaluate water-related risks. Through the work we established a common understanding of the concepts and issues related to water stewardship also with reference to our stakeholders' expectations. We have added new goals this year related to the responsible use of water: in addition to the goal of reviewing our water management systems as mentioned previously, we want to reduce the use of drinking water in production processes by half in 2020, compared with 2010."

Although the new standard is voluntary at the moment, Dittrich-Krämer foresees that it might provide the basis of future legislation, either in Europe or elsewhere around the world.

"The EWS standard is in line with current European legislation and got a strong encouragement by the European Commission, especially from E.U. commissioner Janez Potočnik. During the launch of EWS, the Commission emphasized the need to build in additional incentives to promote a change in behavior and practice of water use, management and governance," she notes.

SPECIFIC INITIATIVES
At the plant level, business success can add to water optimization challenges. For example, at Air Products, Allentown, Pa., in 2010 global water consumption — including water pumped, piped or otherwise brought on-site for use in manufacturing and related activities and excluding water returned to its source — was 16.1 billion gallons. This compares to 15.6 billion gallons consumed during 2009. However, production was higher in 2010, with greater processing and cooling needs boosting water demand.

At Air Products, water plays an important role in two key processes. The first is hydrogen production, which requires high purity water for steam generation and chemical reactions. The water purification processes used, typically reverse osmosis (RO) or ion exchange, usually produce some wastewater in meeting water purity targets. The second is air separation and industrial gases production. These processes rely on large compressors and equipment that require cooling water; water is lost in the evaporative cooling process and in cooling tower blowdown to maintain solids/pH/chemistry for optimum operation.

Among several sustainability goals, Air Products has a water reduction target — and says it's the only company in the industrial gases sector to have publicized such a figure. The target is to cut consumption by 10% globally by 2015 compared to 2009. That reduction is based on intensity of use and relates to the controllable portion of fresh water consumption. It excludes water used stoichiometrically in reactions, exported to customers as steam or water, and returned to the original source.

Reaching this reduction target requires understanding and managing water use at a site level. This allows appropriate actions that fit with concerns or challenges at a particular plant but also enables developing, sharing and maximizing best practices among facilities that rely on the same or similar processes and engineering design.

Such an approach offers benefits as the company grows in emerging markets like Asia, where water isn't necessarily an abundant resource. It will enable new plants there to take advantage of water-reduction best practice already firmly established in production processes.

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