Analysis: The evolution of water management into ‘Industrial Water 4.0’

Chemical production is simply not possible without water. Used as a coolant, solvent, reagent, or product constituent, water is an indispensable resource in the process industry. Digitalisation continues to expand its footprint in chemical production, and you already hear the term ‘Chemical Industry 4.0’. So, what does this mean for industrial water management? This is the second and final part of the trend report published in Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East, October 2018, pages 40-41.

Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real-time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information, or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events, or toxic surges in the water infrastructure.
Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real-time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information, or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events, or toxic surges in the water infrastructure.

The potential for reducing reaction times and increasing flexibility now go far beyond the individual line, or system. Particularly in batch production, for example the production of active ingredients in the biotechnology industry and the majority of processes in steel production, estimates of process water flows can be improved by acquiring and consolidating production unit data. This is a key factor for creating an industrial symbiosis at chemical and industrial parks.

 Waste water management

Industrial water management can only function through interaction with the external operating environment. This primarily means the municipal (waste) water sector and the management of natural water resources (groundwater and surface water), which mostly involves public authorities.

Increased digitalisation in the municipal (waste) water sector with the introduction of Water 4.0 places new demands on the interfaces between municipalities and industry, particularly with regard to the optimisation of information flows. For sites where natural water resources play an integral role in water management, digitalisation at the interface to approval and enforcement authorities will become increasingly important for monitoring and compliance purposes.

The water and waste water industry is faced with the challenge of adapting its systems to ongoing demographic, structural and climate change. More and more consumers, both private and industrial, are concentrated in densely populated urban areas. The result is greater demand for water and higher effluent volumes. In response, the demands placed on water quality are becoming continually more stringent.

 Properly conditioned water

Particularly in industrial processing, the supply of properly conditioned water has a crucial influence on productivity and process quality. In some regions of the world such as India and Latin America, water scarcity and poor water quality have become an impediment to economic development.

As a result, the general public is becoming increasingly aware of the need for protection and sustainable management of water resources. Even in countries like Germany, contamination of groundwater and surface water with trace pollutants and other environmentally harmful substances from industrial effluent, the excessive release of nutrients from agriculture and the problem of micro plastics is creating new challenges for water conditioning. Additional conditioning stages have to be added to the purification process, or modifications need to be made to existing processes to comply with more stringent threshold values. To the extent possible, plant operators should ensure that during natural events such as heavy rain and severe weather, flooding of effluent treatment plants and uncontrolled release of polluted waste water are prevented.

Increasing flexibility in production causes fluctuations in water demand and water volumes. The water supply and effluent treatment systems must be designed to handle this flexibility. Last but not least, demographic change creates the need for plant operators to harvest the knowledge and experience of their employees who work in water conditioning so that this expertise can be passed on during training.

Circular water management

Sustainable water and waste water management depends on the existence of a circular water management system. Both structurally and in the IT domain, the industrial and municipal demand and (waste) water flows must be interlinked. This creates an opportunity to exploit synergies in many areas which can enhance the efficiency and quality of water conditioning and effluent treatment.

Integrated monitoring of the water supply can speed up the detection of leaks, ensure compliance with threshold values and guarantee needs-based management of water and waste water flows.

Once digital links are established between industrial and municipal (waste) water management, data from real-time monitoring of water volumes and quality can be input into an information, or early warning system not only during normal operations, but also during exceptional weather events, or toxic surges in the water infrastructure.

Plant operators can use model-based optimisation systems to generate forecasts which in turn form the basis for making recommendations on operating parameters. Data acquisition systems provide reliable data, which generates maximum real-world benefits for system operations.

Simulations of inflow and outflow volumes can be generated by integrating weather data and geo-information systems, and this data can be linked to the operating parameters of the different systems.

With this approach, it would be possible for example to create buffer capacity for extra water volumes prior to a heavy rain event, or adjust effluent treatment operating parameters to match the new composition of the effluent.

That however presupposes more intensive networking between the various organisations and systems as well as solutions for acquisition and analysis of data from a wide variety of sensors and systems.

(This feature is based on a trend report from DECHEMA for ACHEMA 2018.) 

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