Sustainable alternatives for process water

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The business world, government bodies and knowledge institutes are researching how to close the water chain
During the coming three years, an international knowledge consortium is researching new technology to improve process water purification. The organisations involved, including Evides Industrial Water, are focusing on making the water supplies to large industrial consumers more sustainable and future-proof. Ghent University and the industrial water consumers BASF, Dow and Yara Chemicals are participating too.

Early this year, eleven organisations from the Netherlands and Flanders in Belgium started on ‘IMPROVED’: Integrated Mobile PROcess water proVision for an Economic Delta. The project’s aim is to investigate what water sources are usable for the production of process and ultra-pure water. This is important, because fresh surface water is often used and, certainly in Zeeland, this is a scarce resource. Professor Arne Verliefde of Ghent University has much to say on this: ‘Zeeland Delta, which runs from Ghent to the Port of Terneuzen, is an area that’s becoming more brackish. The sea penetrates far into the land. Also, in the past, relatively much fresh water was pumped up for local purposes. In order to be less dependent on this, we in the IMPROVED project are studying whether we can process other water types such as brackish surface water and domestic and industrial waste water into process water and in this way can close the water cycle.’ A successful example of this last is our sewerage purification facility De Drie Ambachten, where the water board, Evides and business have joined forces and now make process water from purified waste water.

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Knowledge bundling
Within the study, the partners employ a mobile process water unit. They use it to test the effect of the different water types on the production process at the industrial water consumers, such as Dow, Yara and BSF. This means that both the water purification and the effect of process water quality on for example cooling towers, boilers and steam crackers can be simulated. The mobile plant will be built this year (2016) for use in various locations as time progresses. The full study phase will last for three years. IMPROVED is an international initiative in which the business world and knowledge institutes are collaborating closely together. Professor Verliefde considers this public-private partnership very important: ‘It is impossible for businesses to have all the knowledge needed within their own economic setting. Collaboration is essential therefore, and businesses prefer to collaborate with partners they trust. Knowledge institutes profit from this by obtaining honest feedback about the technology they are developing. What is possible and what isn’t? Practice and theory come together and ensure a faster takeup of technical innovation.’

Regional interests
Yara is one of the businesses in Zeeland that is participating in IMPROVED. Gijsbrecht Gunter, External Relations & Communications Manager, explains why the project appeals so much to Yara: ‘Sufficient fresh water is an international challenge that we want to dedicate ourselves to actively. It forms one of the strategic cornerstones of the vision and mission of our company, which is market leader in the field of fertilisers and nitrogenous industrial chemicals. Agriculture currently consumes 70% of the available fresh water for food production. Yara is working on solutions to improve the water footprint of crops.
We are also striving to improve the water budget of our own production processes. New technology can assist here.’ Yara, from Norway, is fully ready to invest in good sustainable projects with a practical bent. In this, the company maintains a close watch on the region’s interests. ‘We consider that, for Zeeland, it is crucial to make the transition to a sustainable future with the existing process industry. Businesses have stated that they want to realise this jointly with all stakeholders. Once Zeeland and the neighbouring regions actually succeed in putting flesh on this, I am convinced that the process industry will retain its right to exist in this area and will continue to contribute to social prosperity.’

A better understanding of water treatment
The aim of the IMPROVED project is to make the treatment of water – a scarce raw material – more sustainable. For BASF, one of the IMPROVED partners in addition to Yara and the Ghent University, the efficient use of water is one of the spearheads of its sustainability policy. We asked Steven Meul, Process Manager Central Tankfarm & Utilities at BASF Antwerp N.V. the following three questions:

Why is BASF taking part in the project?
For BASF, sustainable business practices are very important. That translates into products and solutions that help make the future more sustainable, but it also manifests itself in the way we produce our products. Nowadays, the efficient use of water is one of the spearheads of our sustainability policy. BASF uses water sparingly and efficiently and always deploys the right water for the right application. But we’re constantly trying to improve. That’s why we wanted to join this project, because now we can combine forces and take another step forward using innovative technologies.

Is this project sustainable and, if so, how does that manifest itself?
Needless to say, the ecological aspect is extremely important for us. The project will help make the treatment of water – which is a scarce raw material – more sustainable. But for BASF, the ecological aspects go hand in hand with the social and economic aspects. This project is also sustainable because companies, knowledge institutes and government organisations in the region are joining forces to study what needs to be done to put a new technology into practice.

Which result do you expect and when will you be satisfied?
The project will help us map out the best possible treatment strategies so that we can determine the right water qualities for our applications. We also hope to be able to test particular residual water flows for reuse so that they can be redeployed in our production processes. Added to that, we’re looking forward to the unique cross-border cooperation and ‘co-creation’ with all the parties in the water chain. For us, IMPROVED will have succeeded if the research infrastructure at BASF or at the other partners leads to a better understanding of water treatment in all its facets.

Read more about IMPROVED.

Evides Industrial Water, inventive.