If Europe's chemical industry – a sector with enormous growth potential – can achieve greater water efficiency, then the benefits will not just be environmental. Making better use of natural resources will help improve the sector's competitiveness and ensure compliance with ever more stringent rules to protect the environment.
© Andrei Merkulov - Fotolia.com
Resource efficiency does not come solely from technological innovation; it is also achieved through good business practice, and the benefits often flow into other sectors. This complete approach to sustainable industry is central to the EU-funded E4Water project, which was launched in May 2012.
The project is in the process of developing and validating new solutions for increasing water efficiency at chemical production plants. A 20% reduction in water use, a 30% reduction in wastewater production and a significant decrease in related energy use is expected across the project’s six test sites.
“E4Water will make major water-consuming industries in Europe – like the chemical industry – less dependent on natural water resources, and strongly reduce the impact of wastewater discharges into the environment,” explains project coordinator Thomas Track.
“Europe is the world market leader in chemicals, generating employment in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Innovative solutions and approaches can contribute to economic growth, create jobs and enhance Europe’s competitiveness.”
E4Water will also strengthen the global leadership of Europe’s water technology industry, and ensure that the chemical industry complies with EU regulatory requirements, through a subsequent decline in the release of pollutants and heat into the natural environment.
The involvement of companies should help to strengthen corporate risk assessment, covering issues such as health and safety, regulatory constraints like high water taxes and reputational risk, Track says. This process could also open up constructive negotiations between the industry and other stakeholders and public authorities on environmental and regulatory issues, he adds.
Turning knowledge into action
The project has been underway for just over a year. New membranes to improve the reuse of processed water have been tested, and favourable membrane and disinfection technology identified for water with high organic load.
Initial tests have been carried out by water treatment technology developers, water treatment technology providers and industry. A policy analysis was carried out to ensure regulatory compliance.
“With respect to innovative technologies, the focus is on turning knowledge into ecological, economical and energetic benefits through their industrial application,” says Dr Track. “E4Water is also providing an open innovation approach for testing project results in other industries. The aim is to ensure wide applicability, and the fullest possible exploitation of the solutions developed in E4Water.”
The project plans to test the most efficient treatments with wastewaters from other comparable production sites, in order to foster an integrated applicability to wastewater streams. Several companies from various industrial sectors – including pharmaceuticals and industrial biotechnology - have already indicated an interest in using E4Water solutions to treat their wastewater streams.
Industrial symbiosis is a key factor for the process industries to achieve the targets of reducing energy and materials consumption and E4WATER is a clear example of this approach. The project is one of the success stories that represent the aim of the new contractual Public-Private Partnership (cPPP) SPIRE, by developing innovative solutions to reach the resource efficiency that the chemical industry needs to increase its competitiveness.