Cleaning up process water reduces costs by a staggering 50% [read more]

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Don't Muddy the Water when it comes to Saving Energy

We are constantly being asked and cajoled by the Government to reduce energy costs and now the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is urging the Government to commit to reducing emissions of all greenhouse gasses in the UK by at least 34% in 2020.

The CCC is urging commerce and industry to use energy more efficiently and reduce waste through using more energy efficient appliances, shutting down computers, using air conditioning less and turning off lights.  

But what happens after all these measures have been taken?

The Government it seems is prepared to help businesses reduce their carbon footprint by means of capital loans from £5000 up to £200,000 - but only if it involves the direct reduction of electrical, gas, oil or diesel energy sources. 

In reality, whatever monies industry invests in reducing these direct energy sources is ultimately going to be wasted as the inevitable wear and tear of any machinery or process will start to push costs back up and efficiency levels will begin to drop. 

The most surprising point to all of this is that when it comes to water, an element that plays a significant part in driving this machinery or process, getting any funding support for innovative solutions to saving such a valuable natural direct resource becomes a distinctly muddy issue.

This issue is not helped because there is little evidence of the Government encouraging industry to spend its hard earned monies on energy reducing schemes when it involves water even though its use is a form of high energy and therefore high cost.

Much of this has to do with the fact that any funding available is based on certification of the technology used and not, as is the case with electricity, oil and gas, on how much actual water is saved. And, to effectively and reliably clean water for either reuse or discharge back into the environment, it is not a simple as a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Industry uses water in many different ways and in different amounts, therefore water saving technology, in many cases, is used in multiple applications.  The commonalities however are that highly efficient water saving techniques are proven to not only reduce an organisations carbon footprint but to also make huge savings on energy bills.

In many operations, within the manufacturing, industrial and commercial sector, the use of water is often an accepted process cost.  There is scant attention paid to reducing such a significant service cost with fixing leaking taps often being the extent of energy saving in this area.

With water, unlike with electricity or gas, the consumer pays for both the supply of water to the plant and once used he pays again for its disposal.  Pity the process that contaminates this valuable resource as the cost of treating water effluent is based on many factors, including solids, heat, pH and volume. And under the policy of “the polluter pays” this cost of effluent treatment is ever increasing.

The simple fact is if an organisation can clean up this process water and re-use it just one more time it will effectively reduce its process water costs by a staggering 50%.  

Yet, interest in this area of ‘process’ is given little attention.

True, the re-use of process water involves the installation of additional filter technology to provide the necessary clean water.  However, modern technologies and techniques can provide a significant return on investment.

If a process only uses 10 m3/hr (10,000 litres) and is a 24 hour operation, the water bill for this modest operation could well be in the region of six figures.  Yet having the ability to remove solids of 1.0 micron and less, plus any additional treatments, to enable process water re-use would cost just £30,000 to £40,000 giving a payback within 6 months.  Even with today’s interest rates this is a fantastic return on investment.

Case Study 1

A plant manufacturing UPVC window sections typically uses 200,000 litres of water for the manufacturing process every hour which is traditionally treated with chemicals and chilled to 12-14C. With such a volume of water being used, a large recirculation tank and larger water chiller (2000 kw is not uncommon) is normally employed.

However, this process generates water contamination. In order to try and control this contamination many plants undertake an overflow of 20% of the volume every hour. This means paying for new fresh water at a rate of 40,000 litres every hour and at the same time paying for disposal of the same.

This approach however still didn’t solve the process problems, as the remaining contamination still gave quality and process issues. However, by installing the correct technology over 90% of the UPVC industry now has better quality products with a near zero loss water system. Taking the following into account, a return on investment was achieved in less than 6 months:

·          Reduced use of potable water (evaporation and spillage only)

·          Reduced effluent charges

·          Reduced product scrap due to better product finish

·          Less energy expended on reworking scrap

·          Reduced chemical use

·          Reduced electrical energy (chilling water)

Case Study 2

In the commercial sector, for businesses that have large space cooling or heating systems the cost reductions are not based on the cost of the water, so much as the cost of electricity. These systems are often closed loop water heating or cooling systems. Typical areas for quick return on investment in this sector may well be hotels, computer suites, Universities, banks, large office complexes, and other public buildings in fact anywhere where water is used to heat or cool the work environment.

So how can savings be made that will reduce energy costs significantly?  

A typical chiller for a medium sized building with computers may well have installed refrigeration chillers which have 200-300kw of electrical energy. Larger buildings with high populations or personnel and or computers can be much bigger.

Many public buildings require heating in winter and so use a combined system of chilled water and hot water. On the hot water systems this would be connected to the hot water boiler, very often driven by oil or gas. On the cooling side there is a cool a water circuit, connected to refrigeration chillers to enable cooling to occur.

The energy input by the boiler or the chiller is significant whether using gas, oil or electricity to achieve the heating/cooling.

Ask any maintenance engineer what colour the water is in this system and this will range from pale straw (usually found in a new system) to black (found in a typical system). This discoloration is not just ‘yucky’ it is actually having a major negative effect on the system.

From our experience, it is not uncommon to see large commercial buildings lose between 15-20% of its total heating energy input just because the water is dirty.

The discoloration is a product of the corrosion which is taking place naturally within the system, and this corrosion reduces the heat transfer from the heat source to the water, and then from the water to the heating/cooling outlet. A double energy whammy!

In addition, if chemicals are used to treat this dirty water, then the effectiveness of the chemical treatment will be reduced because of the high solid load within the water. Past examinations of this process have shown filtration to remove particulates down to 10 micron can improve heat transfer significantly, but our tests on many systems also shows that the majority of this contamination is between 1.0 micron and 10 micron. We believe that saving of 15-20% in total energy costs in this process can be readily achieved

The solution is to clean up the heating/cooling water using reliable filtration to less than 1.0 micron connected to both the hot and cold water system.  If the water in the system is anything but clear then energy is being wasted. The darker the water the more it is costing a business.

So what are the savings against the cost of the technology?

A typical system using 100kw chiller and equivalent heater can use 250,000 kw per annum for a nine hour operation, five days a week. Many systems are running continuously to minimise energy losses so this figure could be as high as 870,000 kw hrs per annum.

Assuming the losses are only 15%, this means a loss of 35,000 kw per hour per annum. If the system is on 24 hours a day this cost increases to over 130,000 kw per hour per annum, all of which could be recovered through investing in proper filtration which could give a return on investment in less than 10 months.

To re-cap:

·          Reducing the use of potable water for non sensitive industrial commercial use would reduce the call on the UK’s overstretched drinking water supplies. By using alternative sources such as bore hole, river or rainwater harvesting significant savings will be made both on the cost paid for supply and its disposal

·          The reuse of process water just once can cut water costs by 50%

·          On heater or chiller systems, making the water clean can save 15-20% of the total energy input and, as an added benefit, often reduces health and safety risks

All of these benefits have proven that water is a true energy source as well as a valuable resource which, on the world stage, is a diminishing resource.

The Government has a big part to play if it is serious about reducing energy use and minimising the impact on the environment.

But many potential ‘energy savers’ are being put off by investing in these technologies through lack of support funding and awareness of the true situation as illustrated in this article.  Yet the consequences of taking positive action by the Government, for what can only be described as responsible usage of water by industry, would not only reduce energy consumption significantly but also make huge cost reductions, and at the same time reduce the use of this valuable resource - drinking water.

The answer is in fact clear.  The Government has to recognise water as a direct energy resource and bring the use of innovative water saving solutions into the funding stream.  Everyone and the environment will benefit.

Steve Cupples is a leading engineering specialist in water filtration technology for commerce and industry and is Managing Director of UK based Industrial Purification Systems.

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