A checklist for optimizing industrial wastewater treatment processes

June 24, 2024
A practical guide through each step of the industrial wastewater treatment optimization process. 

Starting the journey to optimize industrial wastewater treatment processes can feel overwhelming. That is why Aquacycl has crafted the ultimate checklist tailored to streamline those efforts. This article will serve as a guide through each step of the optimization process. 

Why bother optimizing industrial wastewater treatment? While every portion of production and supply chain may be optimized, the often-forgotten wastewater management portion has one of the highest potentials to improve the bottom line. Completing a full assessment and optimization of processes could lead to cost savings, risk reduction, sustainability benefits and overall efficiency improvements for an entire operation.

Though wastewater comes in at the end of production, it impacts all upstream operations. Without optimizing processes every few years, how can a facility be sure it is running an efficient system?

Step 1. Understand permits and regulations 

The first step on optimizing industrial wastewater treatment processes is to understand what you are allowed to discharge. There is no point to optimizing your wastewater treatment processes if you are not aware of the limits you can discharge. When out of compliance, you can face fines, legal action and production risks. 

  • Review permits and local regulations: Regulations are different for every country, state, county and, occasionally, city. Permits are often unique to each industrial facility and often require updates when changes in production occur. To understand your permits and local regulations, check your city’s government page and check in with your municipality.  It is also a good idea to get to know the industrial inspectors in your area.  
  • Update permits as needed: If changes in production are expected due to expansions, changing product lines, seasonality, etc., then updates to your permit may be needed. Ensure your permits are always up to date so you discharge within compliance. If are discharging directly to the environment and not a sewer (in the USA), Check this NPDES permits site for more information. 
  • Regularly check for updates or changes in regulations: Regulations are always changing, even though you may be in compliance today, it does not mean you will be tomorrow. The best source for finding these updates is the EPA website or state government website if discharging to the environment through an NPDES permit; or by working with your local city government if discharging to utility sewer. Check in regularly to stay updated on any changes or revisions to regulations that may affect your processes. 
  • Establish a system for tracking and documenting compliance efforts: Keep records of any changes in permits and current regulations, as well as potential escalating costs. Public utilities openly report rate changes and will often have a multi-year projection based on planned infrastructure investments. This is true for water and sewer services. You can use these projections for planning your overall costs in the present and future. 

Step 2. Process evaluation 

After determining your discharge limitations, you will need to assess your current processes to determine any areas for improvement. These will help you optimize your industrial wastewater treatment process for cost. 

  • Assess wastewater bills: Assessing current wastewater bills will help you gain a picture of how effective your current treatment processes are for treating certain pollutants. Are these bills predictable? Do you experience high surcharges? If you are paying surcharges, there is likely room for improvement. Which pollutants are causing these surcharges? How often is your wastewater tested by the municipality? 
    • Municipalities will often charge surcharges based on different levels of pollutants, working with them to understand what those are will help you avoid these charges, build a better relationship with them, and help you optimize your system to treat these pollutants more effectively. 
  • Comprehensive treatment assessment: Now that you understand which pollutants are causing surcharges to your bill, assess your current treatment processes to determine their effectiveness in removing these pollutants. Utilize sensors to measure incoming and discharging wastewater and note which pollutants require further treatment. Check for outdated equipment, leaks and maintenance needs. 
  • Identify sources of contamination: Different parts of your production process will produce different pollutants in your wastewater. Measuring pollutants at different steps in your production process will help you gain better control and identify areas for efficiency improvements through flow segregation (see Step 3). 
  • Analyze wastewater data: Gather and analyze data related to the quality and quantity of wastewater entering your treatment system, as well as the performance of each treatment step. Look for trends or anomalies that may indicate areas for improvement or optimization. 

Step 3. Efficiency enhancements 

With your process evaluated, you can now get to work on improving efficiency. Efficiency enhancements will streamline operations and reduce costs in wastewater treatment. By implementing strategies to optimize efficiency, you can improve treatment performance while minimizing resource consumption. 

  • Research advanced treatment technologies and alternative methods: There are many innovative treatment technologies that can treat industrial wastewater more efficiently than conventional technologies. These solutions could also solve other challenges you may face with wastewater management such as space constraint and resource recovery. 
  • Consider digitalization options for optimizing systems: Explore digital solutions such as automation, data analytics and remote monitoring to optimize wastewater treatment systems. Digitalization can improve process control, enhance predictive maintenance and provide real-time insights for better decision-making, ultimately increasing efficiency and reducing operational costs. Check out this blog on how digitalization is helping plant managers streamline operations
  • Train staff on best practices for operating and maintaining equipment to maximize efficiency: Provide comprehensive training to staff on proper equipment operation, maintenance procedures and troubleshooting techniques. Well-trained staff can ensure equipment operates at peak efficiency, identify and address issues promptly, and contribute to overall process optimization efforts. 

Step 4. Resource recovery opportunities

Incorporating resource recovery into wastewater treatment processes will not only help you achieve sustainability goals but could provide further long-term cost-savings. Resources such as energy, nutrients and well, water, can all be extracted from wastewater that would otherwise be wasted. This takes your industrial wastewater management one step further by adding circularity to your processes.  

  • Identify opportunities to incorporate wastewater within your sustainability plans: Consider how wastewater treatment and resource recovery initiatives align with your organization’s sustainability objectives. Utilizing water reuse may help your facility achieve its water efficiency goals. Energy recovery reduces your Scope 2 emissions. Energy and emissions efficient technologies for onsite treatment can reduce your Scope 3 emissions. 
  • Research options for resource recovery (water, energy, nutrients, etc.): Explore various technologies and methods for recovering valuable resources from wastewater, such as water reuse/recycling, energy generation (e.g., biogas production from anaerobic digestion) and nutrient recovery (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen extraction).  
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis for resource recovery initiatives: Consider factors such as capital investment, operational costs (labor, energy, chemicals, sludge hauling), revenue generation potential and long-term sustainability benefits. Assessing the financial viability of resource recovery projects can help prioritize investments and maximize returns on investment while minimizing risks. 

Step 5. Ongoing maintenance and monitoring 

Finally, maintaining optimized wastewater treatment processes requires ongoing attention and proactive management. Regular maintenance and monitoring activities are essential to ensure the reliability, efficiency and compliance of industrial wastewater treatment systems. 

  • Develop a maintenance schedule for equipment and infrastructure: Create a comprehensive maintenance schedule that outlines routine tasks, inspections and servicing intervals for all equipment and infrastructure within the wastewater treatment system. Regular preventive maintenance activities will help prevent breakdowns, extend equipment lifespan and maintain optimal performance. 
  • Implement regular monitoring and testing protocols: Establish protocols for conducting regular monitoring and testing of wastewater characteristics, treatment performance and operational parameters. Here’s a handy guide on industrial wastewater monitoring to help you determine the key indicators performance variables to monitor.  
  • Provide staff training on monitoring and maintenance: Train staff on proper monitoring techniques, maintenance procedures and troubleshooting protocols to ensure effective operation of wastewater treatment systems. There are great training opportunities through organizations like the Water Environment Federation.  
  • Maintain detailed records of maintenance, inspections and performance data: Document equipment servicing, repairs and replacements, as well as any observed anomalies or trends in system performance. This helps with determining future optimization and reporting. Documentation in digital format will yield a historical operating history that can be utilized to better understand and optimize operational trends in production and treatment. 
  • Continuously evaluate and adjust treatment based on monitoring data and feedback: Process improvements never end. Use monitoring data and performance feedback to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of wastewater treatment processes and identify opportunities for optimization in real-time.  

Things to keep in mind 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when undergoing the optimization of your industrial wastewater treatment processes: 

  1. Plan for future growth and expanding product lines: Any changes in production will affect the wastewater you produce. Investing in a system that can handle these changes and growing volumes, or increasing concentrations, will help keep your processes optimized. 
  2. Incorporate wastewater into developing sustainability efforts: There are many opportunities to incorporate wastewater in your carbon and water goals, utilize it as a resource in your ESG or CSR planning. 
    • When aiming for water efficiency, reducing water-use in production impacts the wastewater by lowering discharge volumes but increasing concentrations of pollutants. Make sure to plan appropriately and include wastewater in your holistic water efficiency efforts. 
  3. Stay up to date on evolving treatment methods and technologies: The technology landscape is constantly changing, and innovative systems may bring greater efficiency or solve current challenges in your wastewater processes — without needed to replace any existing equipment. 

And to help you avoid common mistakes in your wastewater management, here’s a blog detailing the top 6 common mistakes we’ve seen in industrial wastewater management

To download Aquacycl's Wastewater Treatment Process Optimization Checklist, click here.

About the Author

Luiza Moreno | Marketing Specialist, Aquacycl

Luiza Moreno is a Marketing Specialist at Aquacycl.

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