2022 is looking to be a monumental year for water treatment. With regulations compounded by COVID-19 concerns, remote monitoring and predictive analytics are more important than ever. Wastewater and water treatment facilities now demand improved insights into the health and overall performance of their filtration system, membrane units, and water quality without the need for extensive time visiting sites or wading through spreadsheets. Managers also want to keep their operators safe, healthy, and working smarter in order to reduce labor costs.
The total water usage in the US is estimated at over 300 billion gallons a day, with industrial use accounting for nearly half of that amount. In 2017, the cost to maintain industrial water management in the US alone was roughly $10 billion and, as populations and industrial outputs grow, water management must become more affordable and more efficient for local and state governments as well as citizens.
Beyond the cost of labor, hiring challenges and labor shortages abound. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a decline in the employment of water and wastewater treatment plant and system operators by 3% between 2020 and 2030. With workers becoming scarce, it’s critical to consolidate the number of difficult-to-understand excel sheets and reduce the tedious manual data entry. Plus, as infrastructure continues to deteriorate in the US, the country’s nearly 15,000 wastewater treatment plants are left more susceptible to structural failure, blockages, and unmet capacity, according to a recent article by Sunbelt Rentals, YOUR WASTEWATER TREATMENT PLANT IS GOING DOWN — AND TAKING YOUR BUDGET WITH IT.
In a data-driven world, executives, directors, and system integrators will expect even more transparency for machine health, membrane health, water, and chemical balance, and overall water quality. What’s more: predictive analytics is quickly becoming the norm for industries that manage health and safety-related services such as Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems, water quality, and other filtration assets coupled with impacts of weather events and chemical imbalances on facility’s membranes.
New regulations are coming in 2022 as well. The EPA has laid out a plan to clamp down on PFAS (per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), aka “forever chemicals,” as part of the Save our Seas Act and RECYCLE Act. These efforts will directly impact the level of reporting and transparency needed by water treatment facilities.
What can each industry do to meet these new challenges while mitigating costs in 2022?
Below we share our predictions for opportunities to innovate in a few key industries.
Food & Beverage
According to a Water Technology article, water usage costs to food and beverage companies is “twofold, namely rising water charges and increases in wastewater surcharges.” Many plants in this industry are being pressured to treat their own water and wastewater supplies. With decreasing availability of clean, potable water and rising costs for cleaning or hazardous water removal in the US and around the world, the food and beverage industry must find other ways to cut costs while accurately reporting operating expenses. This can be accomplished with updated, advanced sensors in a facility paired with innovative predictive maintenance solutions that help facilities more comprehensively see their energy costs, chemical efficacy, and lifecycle of their assets to make better, insight-driven decisions.
According to the 2022 Food Waste Forecast released by ReFED last month, food production for Thanksgiving dinners in the US alone “generates greenhouse gas emissions of more than 1,100,000 MTCO2e or the equivalent of driving 169,000 cars for one full year; and has a water footprint of 104,000,000,000 gallons, which is the same amount of water used by everyone in New York City for three and a half months” — that’s over 8 million people!
With enhanced analytic capabilities, food and beverage companies can boost their tracking of energy usage and flow trends, thereby improving their treatment process and outcomes. Some of the newer monitoring solutions on the market also predict membrane and filter lifetimes for more cost-effective replacement schedules and fewer unplanned maintenance downtimes.
According to Markey Analysis Reports, the growth of the global pharmaceutical manufacturing market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.34% from 2021 to 2028 to reach $950 billion by 2028. Water is a critical raw material in production processes and must always be of the highest quality. In addition to the expected contaminants in our natural water supply, more and more prescription drugs are found in the water system each day, due to increased excretion into the water supply. Hospitals and other facilities are actively working hard to better monitor their pharmaceutical waste disposal and reduce the impact of these contaminants on human health. However, this is only a small preventative measure to the challenges of water treatment in the industry.
The main goal of the industry is to keep production running, and water is their core ingredient for liquid pharmaceuticals. One of the worst things that can happen to a manufacturer in this industry is to produce a batch of medicine and have to waste it completely because they realize later that some operational parameters of the water treatment were not within the specifications.
Moving forward into 2022, the pharma industry can take advantage of innovative monitoring solutions within their systems – offering extensive views, from filtration quality to membrane and RO health to reporting. Companies demonstrating transparency with clear online and offline data, plus timelines of cleaning events and other maintenance logs, will be able to more easily and effectively meet regulatory compliance while reducing time outputs and maintenance costs.
Nuclear & Power
For the nuclear industry, companies are committing to reducing costs in accordance with “Delivering the Nuclear Promise,” an initiative working to advance safety and reliability, drive regulatory changes and improve and innovate the plants.
Although filtration on its own may not seem like a high cost, when it comes to replacements and disposal, the cost increases exponentially. Typically, operators do not have the means to discern in real-time the capacity left on a filter. Relying on a time-based interval, most filters are replaced well before they reach capacity. This results in lost savings on filters as well as expanded costs on removal and disposal. For example, nuclear power plants must dispose of used filters which are considered hazardous materials, which are sent to various locations based on the level of radiation. Because of the hazard label, removal costs can exceed roughly $25,000 per shipment and often must travel thousands of miles to an appropriate disposal facility. This creates a potential scenario of doubling replacement filter costs plus doubling disposal costs plus additional costs for cleaning, shipping, and installation. In the end, replacing filters before they are adequately used increases the cost exponentially.
In 2022, power plants are now able to use sensors and technology to monitor these filters, allowing for exponential savings. Plant operators can monitor the filter health and reduce the cost of labor and disposal by keeping the filters in use until they are no longer effective.
Preparing for the Future
By capitalizing on new and improved AI and IoT water management and filter monitoring solutions, system integrators and plant managers can know exactly how efficient their treatment facility is, better plan for routine maintenance, and prepare for upticks in inflow to decrease bottlenecks in production. All of these strategies will result in improved asset health. These modernized systems will stay ahead of the EPA regulations, and save time, money, and downtime.