Is rainwater harvesting a bit of a damp squib? [read more]

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Is rainwater harvesting effective and can rainwater harvesting provide savings

IS RAINWATER HARVESTING A BIT OF A DAMP SQUIB?

Rainwater harvesting has become the ‘next best thing' when it comes to saving our valuable water supplies. Various techniques are available to make the collection of water possible for use within the home or commercial/public buildings.  The pay off in terms of cost and water savings is clearly evidenced by those companies providing these techniques.  However, when you look carefully at the projects where rainwater harvesting has been introduced it is rarely used beyond that which is necessary for running washing machines, flushing toilets and watering the garden.

With large scale industry now being encouraged to invest in rainwater harvesting the process becomes a completely different prospect. Steve Cupples, managing director of leading water filtration specialist Industrial Purification Systems, explains:

"Industry is doing its best to embrace this concept but in reality, for it to have any effect whatsoever, what they are being asked to do is basically what our national utility companies have being doing, and investing £billions in, for decades.

In real terms, the cost of collecting enough rainwater to be effectual beyond light ‘domestic' needs and to make it safe is a huge investment. The question of contamination makes the use of rainwater complicated; more so when you are dealing with any manufacturing process that involves products for human consumption, such as food preparation and cooking. Rainwater contamination can arise from several obvious sources: the roof itself carries dust and dirt from the local atmosphere; the rain water will collect atmospheric pollutants whilst falling, hence acid rain (although this is less of a problem today); bird droppings and feathers as well as the occasional carrion all add to the potential problem as well the debris that is left.  

All of these are not an issue if the water is to be used on irrigation, but if you wanted to use it for the preparation and cooking of food products or machine wash down, the degree of filtration and treatment required needs to be of superior standard.

The Government currently states that there is 100% capital funding for rainwater filtration equipment and storage. However, if you do actually try to go down this route there is not very much helpful information around.  The few products that are available for funding consist mainly of a "mesh" screen.  To actually base the concept of successful usage of harvested rainwater, beyond that of flushing toilets, on the installation of a "mesh" is somewhat bizarre when one considers the actual process and the needs of industry.

In fact, to ascertain the most efficient ways to save water it is better to look first at a whole production line process, including operational procedures.  Rainwater harvesting is not for everybody; it can be like fitting the proverbial square peg in a round hole and be difficult to see any returns in investment. However, there can be other ways to implement water saving strategies that will, in part, help to make an impact when it comes to reducing a businesses carbon footprint."

Case Study
Industrial Purification Systems (IPS) was asked by a food processing manufacturer based in North West England to undertake a feasibility study on rainwater harvesting as part of its carbon reduction agenda.

As a thorough investigation, this involved IPS looking into the viability of implementing measures for the ability to either reuse process water or use rain water.

The ability to reuse of process water
The food manufacturer was using water primarily in the preparation and cooking of vegetable products and the washing and sanitising of the machinery after each production line process.

The water used as part of the manufacturing could not be recovered as it was heavily contaminated with vegetable and binder products, and past experience had shown that to attempt to recycle this water had the potential to spoil food products used in the next production run.   Although it is entirely possible to remove the solids from the water by general filtration, this alone does not remove certain elements which can from time to time become part of the process, ie the beta carotene pigment found in carrots, effectively dyes the water and the strong overpowering odour of onions, which leaves a distinctive flavour to the water. So if these two ingredients are used then the reuse of process water is not generally a viable option.

The ability to harvest rain
This concept is sold as the great saving, but in reality has little impact within industry due largely to two issues: the ability to harvest effectively and to store and make safe for use.

It is often overlooked, but rainwater collection is not as easy as it may first appear. A large roof is the best solution for easy collection, but gathering all the water from any roof to a single point is not always that simple.

Potential users of rainwater must consider how they intend to use it. It is assumed that rainwater is clean. This is far from the truth as the water has significant bacterial activity and when stored for any length of time the bacteria will almost certainly proliferate unless positive action is taken to prevent growth.

This particular manufacturer was based in the North West. Taking the average rainfall of this area over the last 4 years it was possible that the water collected on roof of the plant would give the manufacturer some gain, assuming that collection was possible and sufficient storage was in place. However, rainwater harvesting is dependent on the rain and, at its best, rain is unpredictable. The old adage it never rains but it pours comes to mind; there will always be periods of glut or shortage.  So to accommodate these fluctuations it would be necessary to plan on a large size tank to cover the dry times as much as possible, by effectively collecting all the rain available at any given time.

Based on latest rain fall figures for Warrington, with an average of 5 cm rain fall per month this would give 780 m3/annum or 780,000 litres, which was far short of the manufacturers stated target.

The plant, which was fairly substantial in size, was using 6 cubic metres of water an hour for plant washing. Based on calculations of harvested rain, and assuming it was an average year for rain and all rainwater could be collected, it would get only 50% of its washing requirement. On this basis it would therefore only save the manufacturer £700 per year.

Outcome
Because of cross contamination between the different vegetable products, the re-use of process water was not going to be a suitable option.  However, in looking at the entire facility and production process, IPS had noticed that the waste water stream from the production line was heavily contaminated with food residue. Because water is charged on discharge based on the Mogden Formula, this takes into account several variables such as volume, pH, solids and temperature.

IPS recommended therefore that a simple reduction of solids in the water residue would have a positive effect on discharge charges. This in turn would reduce the cleaning load, and the cleaning of the drain sections and go someway to reducing the overall carbon footprint.

Conclusion
The harvesting of rainwater can be effective and can offer significant savings, but potential operators must consider all of the implications. So, in order that potential farmers of rainwater may evaluate the possibilities and the potential problems before incurring feasibility costs here are a few pointers to consider:

IPS has over 25 years experience in the water filtration business. Its expertise is utilised to eradicate problems in the drinking water and process industries; its feasibility studies help companies to find solutions to some of the most complex production process requirements.

IPS's systems are used in a variety of industries, ranging from food and chemicals processing, manufacturing and power to shopping malls, commercial buildings and the leisure industry.

Industrial Purifications Systems Ltd can be contacted on +44 (0)1495 294500 or visit www.industrial-purification.co.uk.

 

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