How to Make Water Treatment Greener

June 8, 2022

Research into sustainable water treatment options has yielded numerous exciting results

About the author:

Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized.

Water treatment is an essential service in today’s society. However, at the facilities that handle it, the focus goes beyond factors like productivity and quality. It extends to sustainability, too. Many people are increasingly concerned about how to protect the planet now and for future generations. Making progress at the corporate level can cause ripple effects across society.

Here’s a closer look at how decision-makers can apply sustainable water treatment practices.

Use Sensors for Better Visibility in Water Treatment

Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can directly relate to sustainability because they give people real-time insights into resource usage and potential issues that could harm the environment if not addressed.

In the Asian nation of Brunei, wastewater treatment professionals, in partnership with the Ministry of Development, showed what’s possible when people carefully consider how and when to use IoT sensors. One application involved using the sensors to monitor the sewage-pumping stations and alert people of overflow risks.

Ultrasonic sensors in the wells issue notifications when the water level is within 50 centimeters of an accompanying cover, according to a press release on Actility.com. The sensors also detect dangerous gases. Before this solution was in place, monitoring was sporadic, which meant people sometimes missed critical alerts.

Also, the IoT gave clues about the need for maintenance before equipment broke down. The approach to upkeep was purely reactive before, and it often resulted in repairs that cost tens of thousands of dollars for replacement parts.

Previously, when wastewater pumping stations overflowed, the excess discharged into local waterways. Besides causing an environmental threat from pollution, this issue caused unpleasant smells that bothered nearby residents.

Upcoming plans for IoT implementations include determining how to make the buildings and processes associated with wastewater treatment more eco-friendly. That might include using sensors to track and reduce resource usage or determining which workflows have the most unnecessary waste. Then, it is easier to pursue continuous improvement that helps the planet.

Consider Recycling Options in Water Treatment

Potable reuse is a sustainable water treatment option that is slowly growing in popularity, especially as water scarcity becomes more problematic. Singapore’s NEWater program has taken that approach since 2002, becoming a world leader in such reuse.

Los Angeles is one major city where the public is warming up to the idea of sterilizing water from toilets, factories, and other sources before piping the cleaned water back into homes and businesses.

In states including Colorado, some water treatment facilities reuse the fluid for purposes other than drinking. This is cheaper than preparing it for consumption and could be a good first step for facility leaders interested in water recycling possibilities.

However, if you decide to launch a potable reuse program, it is a good idea to get the public on board first. Many people are understandably concerned about processes that are new or unfamiliar. Plus, some may find misleading information online that makes them reach the wrong conclusions.

Consider having a public event that explains how wastewater recycling works and why it is safe. Think about including real-life case studies. It is also useful to have an email address or web portal that people can use to submit questions.

One study estimated that 60 million Americans do not drink their tap water. A suggested takeaway from the research was that some of them do not trust their local water facilities. There is no easy way to transform mistrust into confidence, but education is an excellent starting point for achieving that goal. Let people know that potable reuse programs connect directly to sustainability aims.

Learn How Artificial Intelligence Could Aid Water Treatment

It is not always easy for decision-makers to choose or agree upon which actions to take to achieve more sustainable water treatment at a facility. However, systems that use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms could fill in the gaps and reduce guesswork. Many such tools process data much faster than humans could without technological help. They also uncover trends that are not immediately apparent to even the most conscientious individuals.

Most water treatment processes require staying within highly precise ranges. For example, solar irradiation is one widely used method of microbial destruction. However, it requires wavelengths within 320 to 400 nanometers for the best results, according to a blog post from Mach Engineering. AI platforms can help ensure critical processes stay within those boundaries. Similarly, some AI platforms monitor whether wastewater facilities stay within environmental regulations. People can also use such tools to see real-time updates of water contaminant levels. Then, there is a higher likelihood they will only use precisely the chemicals needed to get the job done without accidental overages.

AI can also bring process improvements to monitor the quality of local waterways. That was the case with the Anacostia River, which flows through the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Decision-makers used an AI algorithm to monitor E. coli. The results went into a public water quality report that would help people conclude if they wanted to swim in the river on a given day.

Change Processes to Improve Environmental Impacts

Sustainable water treatment often requires altering long-held processes and remembering the broad and lasting impacts that could happen as a result. It may also mean working with other partners outside the wastewater treatment sector to optimize the outcomes.

In one example, researchers gave an American Chemical Society presentation about how grit used in wastewater treatment got used to fill potholes. The repurposing aspect is undoubtedly eco-friendly. However, the team also determined that the substance used to repair roads was better for the environment than hydrocarbon-based asphalt. Lab tests also showed it had superior strength and may offer an overall longer lifespan than asphalt.

Work to improve water treatment processes also sometimes involves relying on microorganisms, such as algae. When a team from India’s Shoolini University chose a particular microalgae strain and cultivated it for two weeks, they got impressive results. The water samples exposed to the algae no longer had heavy metal pollution and the levels of toxic microorganisms were lower.

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A group at Spain’s University of Córdoba also gave a glimpse into the possible future of water treatment by developing a greener wastewater purification method that can eliminate solvents. Their work focused on biosurfactants called rhamnolipids, produced by a bacteria frequently found in nature. More specifically, the rhamnolipids interact with water pollutants and attract them. However, people can separate them from the water and decontaminate the liquid through decantation.

Performing processes differently takes time and effort. The need for it spans beyond sustainable wastewater treatment. For example, research shows the Earth’s productive topsoil breaks down 10 times faster than it can regenerate. This reality has caused discussions about new farming practices that nourish and protect topsoil rather than deplete it.

How Will You Make Water Treatment Better for the Planet?

These ideas will give you some valuable inspiration for starting points about how you could work towards more sustainable water treatment. The main thing to keep in mind is that such a goal is an ongoing process and not something you should try to achieve over a relatively short period.

Relatedly, it is vital to get everyone at a treatment plant involved with the aim. Then, they’re more likely to take ownership of their actions, feel proud about the positive results, and maybe even provide ideas for further progress.

About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is the editor in chief of Revolutionized, a popular science publication that dives into the latest innovations in science, technology and industry. 

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