Photo by Jong Marshes on Unsplash

Many industries rely on water. The USGS notes this valuable resource is used for fabricating, processing, washing, diluting, cooling, or transporting a product. Or it can be incorporated into a product. Or water may be needed for sanitation within the manufacturing facility. When it comes to chemical plant water usage, upcycling is particularly attractive. After all, this is one of the top industries drawing on our water resources.

Continuing my discussion of the circular economy — I’ve already discussed cold beers and the Caribbean as well as educating chemical engineers — I wanted to focus on chemical plants and their water usage. The first key question is always, “can we use less water?”

To answer this question, the chemical plant’s process engineers must analyze water sources including:

  • recycling your wastewater
  • creating large-scale rainwater collections
  • tapping new groundwater sources
  • or even desalinating seawater.

Next, the evaluation of chemical plant water usage must examine what contaminants might be present in the water. Also, how pure the water needs to be for the required process. Knowing these two things can help determine which technologies are needed to put a plan into action in the chemical plant.

Modifying Chemical Plant Water Usage

The fun part, today, though is also determining how to modify water usage in the process. Water is used for heating and cooling, chemical reactions, rinsing, making solutions, and even drinking. So, the options for transforming water usage plans considers filtration and separation units, ion exchange, treatment options, and more.

Plant operators can also lower water usage with diligent monitoring using automated technologies. Yet this approach is too often overlooked. Nevertheless, digital transformation is making it much easier to gather data. Plants can use this information to make their processes even more water efficient.

One new area for examination is “water accounting.”  In a recent article in Chemical Processing, Water Accounting Remains Fluid, Sean Ottewell, explained how various factoring the costs of water into the return-on-investment (ROI) calculations for a project. Each company may approach the calculation differently. Still, they are each trying to determine the “real” price of water usage. Water is not a free resource; the real price considers sourcing, treatment, distribution, maintenance and finally discharge.

Innovation in Chemical Plant Water Usage

Further reflecting the importance of tracking water usage, there is now a tradable index on the price of water.  NASDAQand Veles Water have partnered with West Water Research, LLC, the leading economic and financial consulting firm in water trading, to develop the Nasdaq Veles California Water Index (NQH2O Index), which will really help to drive water efficiency.

The index tracks the price of water rights across the five largest and most actively traded regions in the state of California including California’s surface water market and the four adjudicated groundwater basins.  This first-of-its-kind water index provides a spot price benchmark and offers unparalleled transparency. This initiative fosters greater price discovery and allows for the creation of new tradable financial instruments to serve water market needs.

Of course, my hope is to see this type of Index expand to other parts of the US. With the ability to better account for the true cost of water, we’ll be able to improve chemical plant water usage and find ways to produce more efficiently.

Reducing industrial water consumption is an important step in addressing the global water crisis. Let’s do our part by pursuing these new avenues in chemical plant water usage and innovating new ones as well.