In a 21st century world facing the twin challenges of climate change and rapid population growth, there seems little doubt that water is set to become the most precious resource on the planet.
Its sustainable use is going to become ever more vital for human survival.
© Fotolia, 2012
Industry accounts for a large proportion of our
water use. Its total consumption is projected
to increase by more than 50 % between 1995
and 2025 as industrialisation spreads, reaching
an estimated 1,170 cubic kilometres. That is
enough to fill a 100 meter deep swimming pool
covering the entire area of Paris.
Four of the most water-intensive industries
are paper, food, textiles and chemicals. The
pulp and paper industry, for example, uses
more water to produce a ton of its product
than any other industry.
The potential impact such industries can have
on the world's ability to make more sustainable
use of its finite water resources is clear.
The question is: how?
Some of the answers are starting to come from
a major European project bringing together
34 partners including research institutes and,
crucially, a high proportion of industrial water
users. Running for four years until the middle
of 2012, the € 14.5 million AQUAFIT4USE
project aims to help these four water-intensive
industries to reduce their freshwater needs in
a significant way.
As the project name implies, the fundamental
approach involves examining more closely
than ever before the precise quality of water
needed for specific industrial processes.
In other words, to define and manage the
provision of water "fit for use".
As the project's co-ordinator Willy van Tongeren
puts it: "Nowadays, it is common that the quality
of water used is unnecessarily high - often
drinking water – to be on the safe side. This is not
needed, but most industries do not really know
what the real demands for their processes are."
In response to this, the aims of the AQUAFIT4USE
project are to provide ways of achieving
sustainable water use in the four industries
by identifying and precisely meeting these
"real demands". The hope is that this should
lead to a reduction in freshwater needs of as
much as 30 %.
Already, the project has recorded notable successes:
- New water quality management software
has helped industrial users define their
water quality needs better. This alone has
cut freshwater use by between 20 and 50 %,
depending on the industry.
By developing a new technology to remove
salt from cooling water, which can then
be re-used, AQUAFIT4USE has allowed
freshwater use for cooling towers to be cut
by an impressive 80 %.
Pilot tests of a new non-chemical technology
to prevent biofouling (the growth of organisms
like algae) at a chemical plant in Sweden have
resulted in an 80 % reduction. Biofouling is one
of the biggest water-related costs for industry
and usually requires chemical treatment.
Ultimately, the aim is to "close the water cycle".
This means making it possible for water to
be managed and re-used so that fresh water
intake is no longer needed. There is still a long
way to go, but through the AQUAFIT4USE
project, Europe has shown its ability to take the
lead in the effort to preserve the world's most
No longer is water the consumable that it was
seen as in the past. In the world of today, it is
a highly valuable asset, to be managed and