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How does poor water quality impact production?

Industrial water use is becoming an increasingly hot topic, not least in the context of climate change. Water quality is one important aspect, since it can impact energy consumption, efficiency and even product development.

In Sweden, industry is responsible for nearly 70 percent of the country’s water consumption. The importance of using less water and using water in smarter ways is therefore growing. However, it is not just the quantity of water that matters, but also the quality. In industry, many issues can be traced to water, such as production standstills, problems with product development and other types of faults or errors.

– “Water shortages or difficulty obtaining water with the right level of quality is having a major impact throughout industry,” says Ignacio De San Pio, Researcher at RISE.

To explain it better, he frequently compares water in an industrial process to blood in the bloodstream. Water is a means of transport and as such, it can transport a problem in one part of a process to another.

– “If a person does not have a functioning kidney, the entire body becomes ill. The same thing can happen in an industrial process. The water in a process will typically need to be purified several times and not just externally during the final stage. We tend to talk about water as something external, but we need to start thinking about it differently, as a resource that is extremely important to the overall stability and control of a process,” he says.

Can bring production to a standstill

The paper and pulp industry in Sweden is responsible for a large share of industrial water use, making this sector the largest water consumer in the country.

– “When it comes to water consumption, if anyone can make a meaningful difference, it’s the paper industry,” says Ignacio De San Pio.

Last summer, there were major floods in Gävle causing one of the paper mills to shut down its production for several weeks due to the poor quality of incoming water.

– “This is a good example of how it’s not just the quantity of water that matters, but also the quality. You would never worry about there being a water shortage in Gävle, but this example really showed how important the quality can be. In Sweden, we tend to take it for granted that we have clean water. But that isn’t always the case,” he says.

Affects energy consumption

Water quality can also have a major impact on another important issue to many industrial companies: energy consumption.

– “Given the current prices of electricity, energy consumption is a hot topic. In industry, many processes are running 24/7, so energy is a major item of expenditure. For industries like this, and when there is a production standstill caused by water quality, the facility will typically still remain up and running, yet without producing anything and sometimes, large quantities of water will need to be discarded. In both cases, a large amount of energy is consumed. If you can improve efficiency and stability, you might be able to avoid some of those standstills and save a lot of money,” he says.

If we improve the water, we can save on chemicals, which could improve both efficiency and stability in the process

A prerequisite for product development

When water treatment is done right, it will typically also use less chemicals. And the amount of chemicals can, in turn, have a major impact on product development. Ignacio De San Pio gives the example of a paper mill that wanted to improve their product by changing the paper chemistry. But that proved to be impossible, because of the water quality.

– “Without cleaner water, they were unable to improve the product. There is a direct link between chemical efficiency and water quality and that applies regardless of the industry you are in, not just paper,” he says.

– “But on any given day in industry, you might not connect the dots, understanding the link between product development and water quality. If we improve the water, we can save on chemicals, which could improve both efficiency and stability in the process. It’s important to understand that,” he says.

Understanding the problem is the first step towards a solution

Diagnosing the problem and helping industry understand their current situation are just some of the things that RISE can help with.

– “After that, we can show the potential savings linked to water quality and calculate the benefits of investing in water purification. We can make a plan and identify better ways of using water. RISE has both water experts and process experts from various industries who can work together to solve different types of problems. We can also use our pilots to demonstrate which solutions are most suitable for a particular company,” says Ignacio De San Pio, when talking about the growing awareness in industry of the importance of water.

– “It can be difficult, however, to see the link between many of the problems that we are currently facing, and water. RISE can make that link clear and thereby provide the first step towards a solution,” concludes Ignacio De San Pio.