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Water is a finite resource. It's referred to that way because only 3% of the world's water is available to us as freshwater (includes all surface water, frozen, and groundwater). Manufacturers are including water conservation practices such as recycling wastewater into their corporate sustainability goals. Many technologies are available that allow manufacturers to recycle and reuse their process water. This sustainable practice has become increasingly essential as population growth and drought increases the demand for water.

A brief history of sustainability

In the U.S., before 1969 industrial wastewater treatment was not considered necessary by manufacturers who saw it as a cost with no payback. It meant an increase to operation costs without increasing profitability. When the Cuyahoga River caught fire on June 22, 1969, all this started to change. The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) was passed on January 1, 1970 and facilitated the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the first pieces of legislation the EPA introduced was the Clean Water Act. This amended the Federal Pollution Control Act of 1948 and gave more funding and legal muscle to the EPA for cleaning up the environment. By the late 1960's, society was more environmentally aware, and that awareness continues to grow. Now, the cost center of wastewater treatment has largely become an investment in marketing the corporate image.

Technologies for industrial water recycling

Water quality is the largest factor in determining the scope and cost of an industrial water reuse project. The technology used for water recycling and reuse varies based on the water quality: water to be recycled and water required for reuse. For example, a manufacturer may require high purity water (de-ionized with conductivity of <5 micro mhos), and their waste stream contains high dissolved solids (> 20,000 ppm TDS). Those factors affect the number of treatment steps required and the membrane technology that is needed to improve the water quality to a reusable state. A variety of treatment technologies are available to support an water quality requirements and conditions. The majority of these industrial water reuse systems will use reverse osmosis equipment as one of the final steps:

  • Standard Reverse Osmosis (RO)- Handles water with up to 1,500 ppm TDS.
  • High Pressure Reverse Osmosis (like ProChem's I-PRO™) - Handles water with up to 35,000 ppm TDS.

A simple industrial water reuse project may require only reverse osmosis equipment. A more complex application may require several pretreatment steps before the reverse osmosis equipment. Here are some examples of pretreatment options:

  • Chemical pretreatment
  • Another HPRO or RO
  • Deionized water
  • FOG removal
  • Ultra-filtration

Pretreatment before the reverse osmosis equipment reduces water impurities and conductivity. This not only helps to achieve the desired water quality but also protects the membranes inside the equipment (requiring less chemical use to clean membranes, increasing permeate flow, and extending membrane life). If you are looking for water treatment vendor to help with your industrial water reuse goals for sustainability, start by researching companies who offer industrial water reuse systems that use reverse osmosis technology.  

ProChem strives to help their customers establish the highest level of credibility and a positive reputation within the regulatory community. Their goal is to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that manufacturers require by providing sustainable solutions that will also benefit the customer’s bottom line.

Ammonia can be detrimental to the environment and therefore its concentrations are regulated with discharge permits. For example, when Ammonia enters a lake or stream, aerobic organisms begin to break it down into Nitrates. The excess of Nitrates fuels eutrophication, which can lead to the degradation of that water supply and the quality of that habitat for wildlife. Manufacturers have many choices for systems that remove Ammonia from their wastewater. An ion-exchange system is the most flexible, least labor intensive, and most cost efficient method of all of them.

The ion-exchange system setup

These systems are easily installed and integrated with existing wastewater treatment equipment. It can be installed at the source of the Ammonia introduction, before it reaches the main wastewater stream, or it can be installed at the end of the waste treatment process before discharge. These systems are also easily removed. For example, if the source of the Ammonia is found and eliminated, the columns are easily returned to the vendor. Ion-exchange equipment consists of a series of columns containing resins, a pump, and a filter to remove particulates. The first column receives filtered wastewater and usually contains carbon, which is used to remove organics from the water that might foul the resins in the remaining columns. The columns that follow contain ion-selective resin that is designed for Ammonia removal. For many applications, ion-exchange systems can be setup on a small scale with a footprint no larger than two feet by eight feet or less. The size of the system depends on the flow rate that is required and the concentration of Ammonia that exists in the wastewater.

What about regenerating?

Ion-exchange resins do become exhausted after multiple uses, which means they become less effective. When ion-exchange resins become exhausted, they can be regenerated to restore their effectiveness. There are two options available for manufacturers to have their ion-exchange resins regenerated:

  • Regeneration on site: In order to regenerate ion-exchange resins on site, at your facility, you will need to have a hard-piped regeneration system installed there. This approach can be expensive, as it does require the purchase of capital equipment and chemicals. It also requires space in addition to the ion-exchange system itself and a method for treating the wastewater from the regeneration process (which utilizes chemicals).
  • Exchange columns for regeneration off site: Some industrial water treatment companies offer column exchange programs, which is the most versatile setup for a manufacturing facility. In this process, the vendor will exchange your columns containing the exhausted ion-exchange resins for fresh columns. This allows your wastewater treatment system to stay in operation while your exhausted resins are being regenerated. Because the regeneration process takes place off-site, not at your facility, there is no need for treating wastewater from a regeneration process at your site, and no need for additional equipment or space in your facility.

ProChem strives to help their customers establish the highest level of credibility and a positive reputation within the regulatory community. Their goal is to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that manufacturers require by providing sustainable solutions that will also benefit the customer’s bottom line.

Skid mounted IHPRO for water reuse

When ProChem's installation crew arrives on site on Installation Day, all the water treatment equipment is there ready and waiting. Installation Day is an adrenaline filled day, where all the pieces literally have to come together.

Prior to Installation Day, there has been months of planning, building, and anticipation of the new system's success. All that hard work comes to fruition as soon as the equipment arrives on site. Getting the equipment to its new home safely is also a big job. It requires heavy lifting, machinery, trucks, and travel. After the system has been built and tested at our facility, our Water Systems team prepares the system for transport. This preparation involves disassembling the system into transportable units, removing some piping, closing valves, and covering any openings. The valves are closed and openings are covered to prevent any water or other matter from entering the system during transport.   After the equipment is prepped for transport, our fork truck operator personally loads the equipment onto the trucks with the assistance of fellow Water Systems team members. We handle the prep, travel schedule, and equipment loading ourselves to ensure that our customers' wastewater treatment system is loaded securely so that it arrives on time and in perfect condition. After the large equipment is loaded onto trucks and secured for transport, the Water Systems team loads the remaining smaller items onto the ProChem Systems Trailer. These smaller items include fittings and other small parts, spare parts, supplies, and tools the team needs for assembly on site. The next step, is the journey to the customer's site, where it is assembled and started up for the first time in production.

Here are some photos of a recent system being loaded.

This system traveled to Wichita Falls, Texas.

IHPRO for water reuse loaded on flatbed Disinfection system for water reuse system Disinfection unit loaded with the IHPRO    

Above (left to right): I-PRO™ for water reuse, Disinfection system being loaded by fork truck, Disinfection system loaded on flatbed

Filter Press Chemical feed stand Preparing to load water tank

Above (left to right): Filter Press is loaded behind the Disinfection system, Chemical feed stand loaded beside Filter Press, Fork truck approaching first water tank for loading

Planning the next tank loading Two tanks for water reuse system ProChem Systems Trailer

Above (left to right): Water Systems team members discuss best plan for loading the second tank, Loading second tank with fork truck, ProChem Systems Trailer  

ProChem strives to help their customers establish the highest level of credibility and a positive reputation within the regulatory community. Their goal is to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that manufacturers require by providing sustainable solutions that will also benefit the customer’s bottom line.

Water costs

Regardless of a manufacturer's altruistic goals to reduce their impact on water resources, they have to juggle them with daily operations in a cost-effective way. The reality of implementing industrial water recycling equipment comes down to dollars--and sense. Many manufacturers find their return on investment to be well worth the capital expense. They find savings on water purchases, water treatment, and costs associated with discharge permits and compliance infractions. These savings can actually lower overall operating costs.

Cost Savings: Purchasing Water

Manufacturers actually buy the same water back from the city after discharging it. If they recycle this water instead, they can eliminate the repeated steps of discharging and purchasing again. The volume that is purchased at a time is greatly reduced and so is the frequency of discharging. That can also remove a significant strain from the public treatment facility (POTW). More importantly, it cuts down on water costs.

Cost Savings: Pretreatment

A lot of facilities require pretreatment of the incoming city water before it can be used in their facility. Water treatment systems require consumables such as chemicals and filters in addition to resources to operate it. These are ongoing costs on top of purchasing the water. Recycled water is a higher quality than city water, in most cases, so using that water can actually eliminate the pretreatment step and associated costs.

Cost Savings: Permits and Non-Compliance

Facilities who do not meet their discharge permits can face fines and even litigation, costing them more money related to their wastewater and potentially damaging their reputation in their community and market. That can impact the bottom line. Recycling wastewater reduces significantly the risk of discharge permit noncompliance. The concentrate from wastewater recycling equipment is also a good candidate for zero liquid discharge equipment such as evaporation or solidification. Those systems eliminate the need for a discharge permit completely.

Other cost factors to consider

  • Improved sales: While it's difficult to quantify, recycling and reusing wastewater does have a positive impact on the company's public image.
  • Drought protection: Facilities located in a region that experiences drought should consider the financial benefits that a water recycling system offers during drought.
  • Operations personnel: In many cases, if a facility were to adopt water recycling, they would need to hire additional personnel to operate and maintain the system. That sounds like more money and not savings. Depending upon the vendor, however, facilities may utilize outsourcing services. Doing so lowers the overhead costs of having an operator because the employee is contracted.
  • Production impacts: The process of installing the new equipment should have little impact to production. Choose an end-of-pipe or add-on system. These are a practical and effective choice, offering a smaller footprint at a more digestible prices.
  • Extended equipment life: The high quality of the recycled water can actually extend the life of your manufacturing and treatment equipment. That can be a huge cost savings. This can be further improved by your treatment program. Is it designed with your specific equipment in mind?

Will recycling wastewater save your facility money?

Do the math:

  1. Calculate what you currently spend on water related expenses.
  2. Calculate what that cost is per gallon of water used per day.
  3. Compare the cost per gallon per day with the estimated cost per gallon to treat and recycle the same water (via your prospective vendor).
  4. Remember to consider other factors that can mean added benefits of water recycling.

ProChem strives to help their customers establish the highest level of credibility and a positive reputation within the regulatory community. Their goal is to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that manufacturers require by providing sustainable solutions that will also benefit the customer’s bottom line.

What is Ammonia?

Ammonia (NH3) is a compound that is made of two gases: nitrogen (N) and hydrogen (H). It is colorless and has a distinct odor. Ammonia is used in many industries. In agriculture, for example, it is used for fertilizer. It is also used in food processing, metal finishing, chemical synthesis, ceramic production, oil refining, and many other industries. All of these industries produce wastewater that will contain concentrations of the Ammonia they use in their manufacturing process. Some forms of Ammonia are toxic to the environment.

Ammonia in wastewater treatment

What does Ammonia do in water?

When Ammonia reacts with water, it forms a weak base (pH >7). Two species of this compound exist in water: ionized NH4 (Ammonium) and non-ionized NH3 (Ammonia). It is the non-ionized form that is toxic. Generally, the equilibrium shifts toward a greater amount of non-ionized toxic NH3 with increasing pH. NH3 + H2O ↔ NH4 + OH One molecule of Ammonia reacts with one molecule of water to form an Ammonium ion and Hydroxyl ion. As the pH increases, the reaction moves more to the left, and the amount of toxic Ammonia increases. Concentrations of Ammonia (NH3) ranging between 0.5 ppm to 23 ppm are toxic to freshwater aquatic life. Ammonium is broken down by aerobic organisms to form nitrate (NO3) in a two step process: 2 NH4+ + 3 O2 → 2 NO2− + 2 H2O + 4 H+ 2 NO2− + O2 → 2 NO3− Ammonia can also complicate wastewater treatment by complexing the metals that are concentrated in the wastewater, making the metals more difficult to remove.

How is wastewater treated for Ammonia?

There are many methods for removing Ammonia/Ammonium from industrial wastewater. Some of the more common methods are listed here:

  • Conventional activated sludge: A biological treatment method. This method requires expensive capital equipment and large tanks or concrete basins.
  • Aeration: A time consuming and expensive method. This method requires a capital equipment investment and is used with conventional activated sludge to break down organic matter.
  • SBR (Sequencing Batch Reactor): This process usually has several treatment steps that may include conventional activated sludge and aeration, in addition to a third and fourth step. This method requires an expensive capital investment and most often uses concrete basins.
  • Ion-Exchange: The most economical method. This method requires lower capital investment in equipment and has a smaller footprint even for a large application. The same resins that are used to remove the Ammonia/Ammonium will also remove nitrates simultaneously.

ProChem strives to help their customers establish the highest level of credibility and a positive reputation within the regulatory community. Their goal is to significantly reduce the amount of fresh water that manufacturers require by providing sustainable solutions that will also benefit the customer’s bottom line.