Industries that manufacture things like steel, pulp and paper, chemicals, and oil and gas are some of the world’s biggest users of water. These companies use water for everything from fabricating to processing, washing, diluting, cooling and transporting. For example, steel manufacturers often take water from nearby waterways to cool down their equipment. However, with increasing concerns about water availability and quality, many processing-based companies are looking for new, sustainable solutions for more efficient water use. The EU-funded INSPIREWater project might have an answer. “Our goal is to help the process industry achieve sustainable water treatment solutions,” says Staffan Filipsson, a researcher at the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and INSPIREWater project coordinator. By bringing together technology providers, globally leading steel and chemical manufacturing companies, research organisations and subject matter experts, the project developed new technologies for reducing the use of water, energy and chemicals, along with the amount of waste.
A holistic approach to water management
Behind INSPIREWater’s success is its use of a holistic approach to water management – one that includes life-cycle thinking, resource efficiency, key performance indicators and new technologies. For example, the project developed a generic water management framework that the process industry can integrate into existing corporate management structures. “This water management model is a simple and flexible method that industry can utilise to find efficient ways to reduce water and chemical use, along with the production of wastewater,” explains Filipsson. The project also developed new technological solutions, many of which were demonstrated in real-world settings. For example, in the steel industry, the project demonstrated a simple yet robust technology for removing metal particles. “This successful technology is based on simple, smart magnetic separation, showing that innovations don’t need to be complex and complicated to be efficient,” adds Filipsson.
Collaboration critical to success
Researchers also demonstrated a more complex solution for recovering both water and chemicals in the stainless steel manufacturing process. In doing so, the team had to overcome the challenge of recovering chemicals from the water in the industry’s heavily oxidised environment. “Through good collaboration between our academic and industry partners, we came up with a resource-efficient solution,” notes Filipsson. “After some additional testing, this technology will be ready for implementation.” According to Filipsson, it is this collaboration that was the driving force behind the project’s success: “The smooth collaboration between all the project’s partners allowed us to resolve all issues and, ultimately, develop practical tools that process-based companies can use to improve their water usage.” Researchers are currently preparing full-scale testing of the technologies, the last step before implementation. The water management model is now available for use by the processing industry, although researchers are exploring its potential application in other industries.
INSPIREWater, process industry, water efficient, water consumption, sustainable solutions, water treatment, water management