Kamakshi Sharma, director of marketing and strategy for water technology company Aquatech International, shares her views on data-driven decision making, sustaining sustainability and turning water technology into a service.
Q: What are the biggest issues driving the need for change in water management today?
A: Water scarcity and increasing water-related issues have been major challenges for industries and municipalities, driving the need to do more with less. At the same time, wastewater is becoming more challenging to treat with the emergence of new materials.
However, what is changing is the conversation around implementing ESG — environmental, social and governance — goals. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are helping guide the conversation on corporate sustainability and bringing water to the forefront as a critical resource — enabling companies to find a balance between operational and sustainability goals.
As such, the conversation is moving away from just reducing water consumption towards becoming water positive by finding ways in which organizations can "generate" water to put back into the ecosystem or into their processes.
Now is an opportunity to change. We can create something great; we can look for solutions and be more sustainable as a result.
Q: With customers on this sustainability journey, what kind of solutions are they looking for?
A: As customers look to reduce their water footprint, they want to use minimal or zero liquid discharge (MLD/ZLD), desalination, wastewater treatment and other innovative technologies to help reduce freshwater usage.
Chemicals can stress the environment and cause harm downstream, putting pressure on customers to reduce their chemical consumption. So, we are also working with our customers to provide technologies that help reduce this chemical consumption too.
For example, our FEDI fractional electrodeionization technology, used to produce high purity water, replaces the need for mixed bed deionization, eliminating the need to use and handle hazardous chemicals typically required for resin regeneration.
Customers also want to make empowered, smart, decisions that benefit their operations and the environment. That comes through data-driven decision-making that can optimize their operations and resource use.
This enables more reliability, sustainability, understanding, prediction and peace of mind.
Q: BlueTech Forum 2022, which took place in June, had the theme "radical collaboration for regeneration." How does this align with Aquatech’s approach?
A: Forums like BlueTech provide an opportunity for organizations to network and have impactful discussions about the challenges and opportunities within the water industry. We can learn different approaches and collaborate with one another — it is then our responsibility to take these lessons back to our customers.
We are working with our customers to bridge the gap between intention and action to achieve customers’ water sustainability goals and sustain them for the future.
Historically, so much of the conversation has been about addressing challenges, but we are reframing our mindset to focus on achieving sustainability targets consistently through collaboration.
We don’t want to just provide reactive solutions in insolation. Instead, we are working holistically and are focused on finding the best sustainable, long-term, solutions fit for the future.
Q: Aquatech took part in the innovation showcase at BlueTech Forum. Which technology was presented?
A: Since we started working to reduce the energy of desalination, biofouling has been a key pain point that we had to combat. This is one of the key aspects of our LoWatt desalination technology, where solving biofouling allows us to reduce up to 25% energy consumption.
During this development, we learned some things which we found we could apply more broadly in other applications. Out of this, we developed our BioFilmPro technology for predictive biofilm control.
Biological fouling is a major challenge in commercial, industrial and municipal treatment plants, equating to increased maintenance, reduced productivity and high total cost of operation. Biofouling leads to increased water and energy consumption and chemical usage.
Our BioFilmPro technology integrates real-time sensing, bacteria deactivation and data-driven analytics to accurately predict and control biofilm, reducing chemical and energy consumption for sustainable plant operations. BioFilmPro empowers operators to better meet energy, carbon and water goals at the plant level.
We have successfully installed this technology at a pharmaceutical manufacturer’s cooling tower, a power plant and a membrane desalination facility, to name a few.
Q: Aquatech has been established for over 40 years. How did it started and what changes has the business seen?
A: I am third generation at Aquatech, which was established in 1981 by my grandfather Prem Sharma. He migrated to the U.S. as a chemical engineer from India, where he had seen first-hand the challenges of water scarcity but understood the potential for change and improvement.
He wanted to do something himself and that is when he started Aquatech as a regional supplier for wastewater and water treatment and solutions in the Pennsylvania/Pittsburgh area. Aquatech soon grew and, in the 1990s, started implementing solutions across continents, now operating in 60 countries.
Aquatech has always been led by its technological innovations to solve water challenges, but over the last 40 years we have shifted away from being a company that only provides technology solutions based on a specific specification, to providing holistic solutions that consider the total lifecycle cost of water and long-term sustainability.
We have held a longstanding commitment to being a partner in our customers’ water journey, from discovery through commissioning and ongoing operations. Over the years, our approach has evolved to meet the changing needs of our customers, but our mission and focus have always remained the same.
Q: What does the future hold for Aquatech in the next five to 10 years?
A: We are focused on helping our customers “sustain sustainability” by moving beyond just reaching goals to maintaining their sustainability metrics reliably over a long period of time — ensuring a predictable water cost.
One way to do this is by offering water technology as a service. As an accountable partner for wastewater treatment, reuse and desalination solutions, we have developed these solutions to be offered in a decentralized way through our BioMOD, R3MOD and DesalMOD product lines. These decentralized product lines allow us to offer technologies that can quickly deploy at the site and reduce upfront capital costs.
Q: When we reach BlueTech Forum 2032, where do you expect the industry to be?
A: I expect the conversation to evolve to be about best practices to maintain sustainability metrics rather than reaching goals for the first time.
Digital innovation will be key to reaching these goals, and I expect that the focus will only increase. BlueTech Forum does a great job of showcasing emerging technologies and fostering collaboration around them, so I expect that these technologies would be positioning artificial intelligence and machine learning at their core for sustainable plant operations.
The water industry continues to learn from customers every day. Their needs are constantly changing, and our solutions will adapt to meet those demands with sustainability always on our mind.