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Published: 30 August 2012  
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Countries involved in the project described in the article:
Belgium  |  Czech Republic  |  Denmark  |  France  |  Germany  |  Italy  |  Netherlands  |  Poland  |  Slovenia  |  Spain  |  Sweden  |  United Kingdom
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AQUAFIT4USE – Helping industry conserve the world's most valuable asset

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 precious resource.

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 sustained.

Project details

  • Participants: Netherlands (Coordinator), Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland, United Kingdom
  • FP7 Project N° 211534
  • Total costs: € 14 470 000
  • EU contribution: € 9 650 000
  • Duration: January 2008 - May 2012

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