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IFAT 2018: 3 Technology Trends in (Waste)Water Treatment

It’s been over a week since the dust settled on IFAT and I was lucky enough to take a trip to Munich to attend the event.

IFAT covers all areas of water, sewage, waste and raw materials management. The conference features everything from bin lorries (garbage trucks to those from across the pond), bins (dumpsters) all the way through to water treatment technologies/services, which is more my area of expertise.

I work with clients across the water treatment space which accounted for approximately 4 of the 19 aircraft hangar-sized halls that made up the event. That being said, I wanted to highlight 3 common themes that I think are going to be really influential in this space for the rest of 2018 and foreseeable future.

That means I won’t be focusing on the other areas at IFAT, so apologies to all of the garbage truck enthusiasts reading this post.

Anyway, here are 3 things that I think are going to be big in water in 2018.

#1 Decentralised Water Treatment 

The increasing awareness of water needing to be used responsibly has resulted in rapid growth in demand for small scale local treatment facilities to allow energy-efficient treatment, incorporating recycling, reuse and recovery. Decentralised Water and Wastewater Treatment eliminates the need for the traditional major infrastructure associated with water treatment on a municipal or industrial scale, which means there are a variety of benefits that come with its implementation.

Firstly, as the water treatment plant will be serving a much smaller area than the traditional model, water quality can be positively impacted. The flexibility of the technology involved also means that the size and scale of the treatment can be comparatively easy to scale up or down.

This means that everyone from individual dwellings in remote areas to large single site business or communities can all live ‘off grid’, albeit in slightly different forms, as a result of decentralising water treatment.

For me, the humanitarian angle is what is most exciting. This means that rural communities that have traditionally struggled to access clean water may soon have that access. Taking into account the information from the WHO that waterborne diseases are the world’s biggest killer, the potential could be to save millions of lives.

Obviously, a decentralised water plant still needs to be designed and maintained responsibly, but moving forward it could represent economic, environmental and public health benefits on a global scale.

#2 Zero Liquid Discharge 

Treating the liquid in industrial processes has come a long way, from just dumping waste in rivers and hoping for the best to the intense scrutiny the practice is under today. Rigorous environmental laws, fines and tariffs have forced industry to take much greater care in what they do with their waste.

That being said, a zero liquid discharge system (i.e. an industrial process that releases zero liquid) is still a relatively new and costly process which has yet to achieve widespread adoption. However, that doesn’t mean that ZLD doesn’t come with a range of benefits.

The first of these is how environmentally friendly and sustainable a ZLD system makes an industrial process. With a ZLD, around 95% of the liquid waste produced from an industrial process can be reused and valuable byproducts such as salts and brines can be reclaimed. This second benefit could, in future, also help to offset the initial cost of the system.

As mentioned, currently ZLD systems are limited to areas that have severe water scarcity, very high discharge tariffs or when required by law (which is still rare) but as our collective eyes turn more and more to focus on the environment and sustainable environmental solutions to our business processes, it’s likely to become much more widespread.

This will be complimented by the fact that fines and tariffs for breaking environmental laws are only going to increase. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s a matter of time until the at-present highly complex bespoke technology is commoditised and rolled out to a global audience in a non-prohibitive price bracket.

I’ll certainly be on the lookout for the emerging players in ZLD before IFAT open the doors in 2020.

#3 A Circular Water Economy 

Water scarcity, due to our mismanagement of the world’s natural water supplies, is becoming a bigger and bigger part of environmental conversations all over the world. In addition, if we’re not using it all up, we’re polluting it. Incidents like that which occurred at Lake Tai, the largest freshwater lake in China, where drinking water for more than 2 million people was polluted are only going to become more common as the global consumer class grows.

Something I saw a lot of at IFAT was talk of the ‘circular’ water economy whereby efforts to look after our water supply and be more frugal with natural resources are combined with other renewable energy efforts, such as waste-to energy plants.

One such example, quoted by Veolia, is that of Billund in Denmark where, under guidance from the local water authority, residents are tasked with splitting their waste into organic and non-organic materials, dramatically increasing the purity of the organic waste. This dramatic increase in purity means more efficient recycling processes, utilising far less water, leading to energy generation in biogas and waste-to energy plants.

Throughout 2018, South African water shortages, particularly Cape Town's "Day Zero", has dominated global news and we’re likely to see more and more of these types of events in the coming months and years. The circular water economy will be crucial piece in the puzzle of solving such problems, which is why I think that innovators in this space will be ones to watch in the near future.

The common theme with all 3 of these areas is that they all contribute to solving serious, global problems, be they environmental, economic or public health. That’s why I think they’re much harder to ignore, and less likely to disappear than a typical ‘off the shelf’ product or service that we’re so used to seeing.

As we work towards achieving the 17 sustainable global goals as set out by the UN, companies utilising the technologies that I witnessed at IFAT this year will have a huge part to play.

What were your biggest takeaways from IFAT this year? Are there any trends that you think need highlighting? Let me know in the comments!

I’m currently working with a number of exciting clients who are looking to strengthen their teams. If you’re interested in a new opportunity in the space, or you're looking to add to your team, drop me an email at lyle.king@charltonmorris.com

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