The effects of sustainability on research and development

July 1, 2014

An industry professional weighs in on how water demand and climate change have influenced innovation in the water industry.

Water Technology recently caught up with Dr. George Barclay, the research and development director for Dow Water & Process Solutions. Barclay leads both the process and product innovation for the business, responsible for developing technology strategies and delivering innovation with sustainable competitive advantage. Barclay and his team utilize Dow’s Tarragona, Spain research and development center, the Tarragona Global Water Technology Center, where more than 30 researchers replicate real-world operating conditions in 20 large scale pilot plants, working with technologies including membrane ultrafiltration, membrane bioreactor, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis and anti-scalant and biocide technologies. We spoke with Barclay to find out what drives research and development in the water industry today, how sustainability plays into the entire process and how water shortages have driven innovation over the past few years.

Water Technology: What is the main driver of research and development in the water industry?

George Barclay: The main driver we're facing right now is population growth. The population will grow from seven billion in 2011 to nine billion by 2050. And, it's not just population growth, but also industrialization, pollution and climate change that are all putting pressure on fresh water resources.

The biggest part of that is industrial water in the manufacturing industry, which has a big role to play in managing water and managing resources. So, working with industrial partners is key to addressing research and development issues in the water industry.

It takes a lot of resources to produce a single gallon of usable water — current estimates are around eight to 20 kilowatt hours to produce 1,000 gallons of water. That's four percent of all power generated, for example, in the U.S. So, scientists are now challenged to develop technologies across a whole portfolio, including ion exchange, reverse osmosis and filtration technologies, to reduce the cost of producing water and treating water in a more sustainable way across all applications from municipal to industrial in different regions.

WT: How has sustainability changed the way that research and development are carried out?

GB: Scientists aren’t just in the labs doing research and development any more. We are working with our partners, industrial and municipal customers, to look for resource savings and tailor solutions to their specific needs. It could be energy, it could be water or cost savings, for example, chemical issues for clean in place, etc. So, it's mainly looking at resource savings that has really changed. A good example is how our scientists have innovated new reverse osmosis technologies that produce pure water using much less energy to produce that water. We’ve really changed focus to concentrating on resource savings, energy and water costs.

WT: In which sector of the industry, whether it be residential, commercial, municipal or industrial, are the biggest advances in sustainability being made?

GB: Just now, industrial is the second largest consumer of treated water and has the most needs for advances in sustainability. But, we're really beginning to focus on industrial partners. For example, again, for a variety of industrial applications from power to the chemical industry to other industries, new advances in reverse osmosis technology are really helping industrial users produce cleaner water using less energy with similar rejection in terms of impurities like salt and to save costs and energy. And, while the main focus has been helping enhance water treatment in industrial settings, we're also finding that advanced reverse osmosis technology has applications in other areas, such as for municipal users and commercial users, and even residential.

WT: What kinds of new collaborations have arisen from the pressure from water shortages and the pressure to be more sustainable?

GB: Water is different over the globe. So, you have different waters and different applications in China and Latin America and the U.S. changing by application, if it's a power station or if it's an oilfield. There are a lot of different types of applications. And, as a result, customers are demanding custom solutions. This is a great example of how water treatment science is being tested and implemented in real-life water situations. Our scientists are now working hand-in-hand with our customers to develop tailored ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis or ion exchange systems that help them achieve their needed water quality while also helping them save resources and money. Industrial wastewater reuse has been a big trend we’re seeing. Industries and manufacturers are more conscious of their water use and the wastewater they are creating, and want to increase their sustainability through reuse.

WT: Can you pinpoint some specific new sustainable technologies and how you think they will change the industry in the future?

GB: New advancements in reverse osmosis innovations are allowing significantly more resource savings compared to prior technologies. One of our most recent technologies is allowing our customers to see 40 percent better water purification — rejection of salt and impurities — using 30 percent less energy than previous reverse osmosis technologies. We expect to see more advancements like this not just in reverse osmosis, but also in ultrafiltration and ion exchange technologies. All water treatment market segments are looking to produce cleaner water using less energy and less cost, so these are the driving factors for highly efficient water treatment technologies.

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