Many industries consume enormous quantities of water. Now however, they are facing environmental and economic challenges requiring them to lower their water consumption. RISE wants to be a partner for helping them achieve that task.
In Sweden, approximately 70 per cent of water consumption is attributable to industry, while in Europe, the corresponding figure is, on average, just 40 per cent. The paper and pulp industry has, by far, the highest level of water consumption. However, others that consume large quantities of water are the pharmaceutical, mining and textile industries.
In Sweden, we are accustomed to regarding water as an infinite resource, which is a luxury not afforded in most other parts of the world. Nevertheless, both the access to, and demand for, water varies considerably across the country and it rarely coincides geographically. And, even in Sweden, we have had periods with water shortages, such as during the spring/summer of 2016, 2017 and 2018. These water shortages had a major impact on Swedish society and they showed us, very clearly, that we need to be much more prepared for a future where drought happens more frequently.
One of the consequences has been a need for industry to lower its water consumption without it impacting their profitability or efficiency.
Ignacio de San Pio is a Senior Researcher at RISE who, together with Lina Lindahl, also a researcher at RISE, is responsible for initiatives aimed at partnering RISE with companies that need help making the necessary transition to reduce their water consumption.
– “We are well acquainted with the challenges faced by industry and can serve as a link to suppliers with various technical solutions for lowering water consumption. We also have the capacity for testing those solutions. Besides that, we can help by being proactive and monitoring, for example, future legislation on water,” he says.
We’re discarding a valuable resource
Relevant partner for industry
RISE is currently coordinating and developing its expertise such that it can be a relevant partner to industry. In a couple of years, it aims to be the country’s leading research institute for industrial water usage and a partner that helps industry make the necessary transitions.
– “For quite some time, water has been a key aspect in many of the projects we do here at RISE. We have acquired a great deal of expertise over the years and many opportunities exist. We have nearly 100 researchers working with water-related issues. Now, our focus will be on identifying the best forms of collaboration and packaging our offering,” explains Ignacio de San Pio.
– “Right now, we’re working very diligently to identify our competencies and super powers. We’re also striving to clarify the additional expertise that we need to acquire by recruiting new talent. The next step will be identifying potential customers and gaining a better understanding of the challenges they face,” he says.
RISE will focus on helping customers identify the best possible technical solutions based on their specific needs, while keeping control on costs and constantly monitoring new developments. The right solution at the right time is a key concept.
Water management needs to change
Circular economy is a topic frequently mentioned when discussing industry and the environment. It is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resources. When applied to water consumption, it means that we must make changes to how water is used.
– “With current practices, we typically pump in cold, clean water and use it in the various processes of an industry. Then, we purify it and release it back to the ocean, at some points cleaner in fact, than it was when we extracted it. That’s not at all what a circular economy is about. The water that is released has a different temperature, salt composition and other qualities. We’re discarding a valuable resource, rather than reusing it and simplifying the process,” explains Ignacio de San Pio.
Ignacio de San Pio emphasizes the importance of doing something about this and acting now. Water shortage is not just a local problem, but a global one. In some areas, it can even lead to armed conflict.
– “In Europe we have both water and technology. And because of that, we have a responsibility for developing and implementing solutions that can later be used in other parts of the world. But, if we don’t take action, the situation could become critical,” he says.