04/13/2021 | Trends

The future of water

Digital and integrated

The harbingers of climate change are starting to affect the process industry. How can industrial water management help to prepare for future water stress?

A drought? In Europe? With major effects on the process industry? The low water of the river Rhine in 2018 gave the dramatic answer to the hitherto unthinkable. Critically low water levels halted shipping traffic on one of Europe’s most important waterways, which connects the North Sea with inland locations in Germany, France and Switzerland.

Consequently, BASF in Ludwigshafen had to declare force majeure, as did Arcelor Mittal, Thyssenkrupp Steel Europe, Evonik, Ineos and Solvay. Loading capacity of the ships decreased, thus not enough raw materials such as iron ore, coking coal and salt could be ferried to the industrial centres. Furthermore, the low water level forced the companies to reduce production as there wasn’t enough river water to cool the plants.

Location, location, water!

The dry spell from 2018 to 2020 has pushed an important fact to the front and centre of our attention: Water is a critical location factor, and the consequences of climate change will make it even more crucial. This holds true all around the globe and especially in the chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical and food sectors.

Europe is now learning the hard way what well-known water stress regions in Asia, Southern Europe, Middle East, Africa, North America and Australia have been experiencing for a long time: Forward-looking, efficient industrial water management can very quickly become a key factor for safe industrial production.

Water-efficient process industry sites can score in many ways if they become less dependent on natural water resources: In the global competition for economic efficiency, with a view to compliance and also in terms of security for site investments.

In addition to the process industry itself, technology providers and developers have also recognised the value of water as a resource for production.

“Water is a key issue at our production sites worldwide. Efficient water management is one pillar of our license to operate and sustainable competitiveness,” emphasises Dr Christoph Blöcher, Head of CO/H₂/Infrastructure Process Technology at Covestro Deutschland AG.

Production and water management go hand in hand

The challenges for the process industry in the topical field of water suggest that production and industrial water management should be integrated even further. This will enable the industry to act in a way that is economically strong, regulatorily safe and ecologically sustainable in the long term. “Integrated and intelligent industrial water management solutions offer outstanding benefits for stable production and economic efficiency. They support the responsible use of water, energy and valuable resources,” says Elmar Billenkamp, Head of Design and Sales at EnviroChemie GmbH.

Current focal points are the topics of digitalisation, water reuse, zero liquid discharge and handling the concentrates that remain after water treatment.

Especially digitalisation in industrial water management, coined “Industrial Water 4.0”, offers huge potential to increase efficiency.

Decreasing the amount of water and cleaners needed to clean industrial containers with the help of a digital twin, as EnviroChemie has done at a German cosmetics company, may seem like a small success. Adding up these small successes can make a huge difference.

Endress+Hauser was commissioned to digitalise the drinking water system of a small town near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Read on page 9 how this saves one of the most important resources: time. The municipality’s highly qualified water engineers can now spend their time on tasks more important than routine inspections.

Author

Dr Thomas Track

Thomas Track is head of water technologies at DECHEMA e.V. He brings together the expertise of professionals from the process industry and industrial water technology.

thomas.track[at]dechema.de

 

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