Reducing Water Consumption in Industrial Processes
Finding new ways of reducing water consumption in industrial processes, that are cleaner, faster and safer is one of the biggest sustainability challenges we face today.
Water scarcity is a growing issue, with The World Bank predicting we will face a 40 per cent shortfall between forecasted demand and available supply of water by 2030, if current processes remain.
Industries with water intensive processes, such as textiles, pulp and paper, must find a more sustainable way forward. To put it into perspective, in the UK the demand for water for clothing production in 2016 was 8 billion m3, enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 90,000 times.
Wastewater management is another concern, with a recent UNESCO report estimating that well over 80% of wastewater worldwide and over 95% in some developing countries, is released back into the water system without treatment.
The water challenge for heavy industry is therefore two-fold; reduce overall levels of water consumption and ensure that contaminated wastewater is dealt with safely and effectively. We believe that science has a key role to play in helping to develop solutions to both of these challenges.
Taking the textiles industry as an example, we have worked with global textile auxiliary houses for many years developing catalysts that work by activating hydrogen peroxide during the processing of raw cotton yarns and fabrics. Our system, based on a stable manganese metal-complex catalyst (Mn-TMEM), known as Pegasus, has been successfully used in textile production, where its highly selective performance in aqueous oxidation processes has proven benefits. These include lower temperature exhaust bleaching systems, reduced time, energy and water usage, as well as increased asset utilization and higher cotton yield. Users have also been able to reduce their chemical load, some reducing caustic soda by 30 per cent. Only a small amount of catalyst is needed to have a big impact and the technology has the added benefit of being a near drop-in solution requiring only minimal changes to existing processing conditions.
Achieving faster, cleaner, safer ways of working to reduce water consumption and improve water treatment will not happen overnight. Despite the tangible benefits these technologies offer to industries looking to ‘do more with less’ there is still a resistance to change but by working together, we can identify and implement solutions that offer sustainable benefits that are both environmentally, technically and economically viable.