Every Drop Counts

Plants aim to reduce consumption and increase recycling.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Meanwhile, the firm is collaborating with an expert from GE on sustainability. This has led to assessments particularly aimed at reducing water consumption at a number of Air Products' facilities in the U.S., Europe and Asia. A number of best practices and improvement opportunities for better controlling water use have emerged from these assessments.

Among the options to reduce fresh water consumption being evaluated are use of gray water (used water that contains a variety of contaminants) and increased water recycling. During 2010, Air Products recycled or reclaimed 2.1 billion gallons of water.

Some examples of successful water reclamation and recycling include: 1.5 billion gallons of water from recycled process condensate from global hydrogen production; 37 million gal/year of boiler feed water from removing oil and minerals from an Illinois refinery's wastewater; and 565 million gal/year of process feedwater from local recycled industrial and sanitary grey water in Edmonton, Alta., preserving the water in the North Saskatchewan River and decreasing demand on processed potable water (Figure 2).

"Air Products recognizes that water is a critical resource for our facilities and is determined to reduce our water use. While this is about being responsible, it also makes good business sense as it ultimately helps us to be more efficient. Naturally, our focus is mostly on our manufacturing facilities around the world where water demands are greatest and the water is scarcest, but we are looking at ways to reduce our need for water in other ways. Just one example is our use of recycled water at our Santa Clara, Calif., facility, which has reduced our fresh water consumption by 62 million gal/year, enabling more fresh water to be provided to our neighbors. By eliminating waste, increasing recycling and reuse, and offsetting water withdrawals with supply from reclaimed sources, we are driving to meet our 2015 water reduction goal," notes Julie O'Brien, sustainability manager.

Eli Lilly & Co., Indianapolis, Ind., also is taking aim at water use. For instance, water optimization is a central part of programs being implemented to improve overall environmental performance at its Erl Wood site in the U.K.

To better understand and control waster use, facility managers installed a site-wide automated monitoring and targeting system. Each building on the site now has a meter to record consumption of both potable and process water. The meters paid for themselves in a matter of months and have been central to identifying consumption anomalies.

For example, an unexpected increase in water flow in one part of a building was found to be due to a broken pipe — its repair saved 11 million L/year of water. The site has reduced overall water use to 19,931 m3 in 2011 from 35,160 m3 in 2008. This has been achieved thanks to the automated monitoring and targeting system, as well as much-improved staff awareness, says Greg T. Spratt, advisor environmental sustainability, global safety health and environment, in Indianapolis.

Also in the spotlight is the company's manufacturing site in Fegersheim, France, where purified water is a key ingredient in its injectable products. In 2008, the facility used 310 million liters of city water to produce 155 million liters of purified water. However, a new RO unit now recycles about half of the water rejected by other units. This is cutting demand for city water by more than 93 million L/year, equivalent to 16% of total water consumption and 63% of purified water process rejects. The original investment of $228,000 is generating $87,000/year in savings.

Meanwhile, recycling non-contact cooling water is part of a strategy to improve energy and water use in fermentation processes at the firm's Augusta, Ga., site, which manufactures a range of animal health products.

Pfizer, New York City, also is targeting water reduction. For instance, the company initiated a water conservation and wastewater reduction program at one of its manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico, where discharge regulations are becoming stricter. The long-term goal is to reuse 100% of the wastewater or ensure any water discharged into the local wastewater collection system is of high quality.

The first attempt, which involved an RO system with minimal pretreatment, became an out-of-control expense due to membrane replacement frequency, maintenance cost and high electrical consumption. The system was installed with the aim of reusing some treated wastewater and reducing discharges by 50,000 gal/day. Previously, the wastewater generated by the facility had to be transported in tankers around the clock to a municipal waste treatment facility located about two hours away.

Eventually Pfizer called in Xylem, White Plains, N.Y. After analyzing the complete process, Xylem's engineers proposed a UF system followed by dual RO units.

Xylem installed a 50,000-gal/day UF system and a 30,000-gal/day RO train for redundancy of the process. The UF system takes care of suspended and colloidal matter and acts as a barrier to provide the required quality of water for the RO membranes.

From the UF system, the treated water goes to a 1,000-gal filtration tank from which a set of pumps sends the water to the RO system. The addition of pretreatment chemicals further enhances the conditioning of the feed water supply for the RO process.

The system has slashed wastewater to about 8,000 gal/day. Additionally, any RO permeate water not reused within the facility now exceeds discharge-quality regulations and simply can be disposed locally. Pfizer also is benefiting from lower treatment chemical requirements and reduced blowdown cycles due to high concentrations of contaminants in the facility's cooling towers.

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