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How Industrial Facilities Can Transfer from Water Use to Water Efficiency

While the averages can fluctuate, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of the water consumed in the United States is used in the industrial sector. And with the economy currently on the upswing, we likely can expect this percentage to rise.

As it does, facilities such as warehouses, factories, assembly plants, and similar locations will be increasingly competing with agriculture—which demands more water than any other sector in the country—as well as consumers at home, at work, and at school, for water.

Further, as the need for more water increases in the industrial sector, we can expect water rates to rise, potentially rising significantly, in years to come. In fact, they already have.

All of this tells us that we must use water much more responsibly, and when it comes to the responsible use of any natural resource, the term we typically use is "efficiently." The key to a long-term reduction in water consumption is to use water much more efficiently.

Fortunately, industrial facilities have a wide range of options for reducing consumption. Studies indicate that in many areas of the world where water efficiency is a top priority and steps have already been taken to reduce consumption, industrial locations have been able to reduce their use by 20 percent to as much as 50 percent. Further, this is often accomplished with minimal effort or inconvenience to building users or building activities. Among the ways implemented are the following:

  • Becoming water focused. Especially here in North America, many industrial locations have just not given much thought to reducing water consumption until recently. Costs have been low—even kept artificially low through subsidies—and historically, water has been plentiful in most areas.
  • Installing "closed-loop" mechanical systems. These systems reuse water. They can be used in many devices, from ice makers to rooftop chillers. One of the key benefits of closed-loop mechanical systems is that they reduce evaporation so that the same water can be used safely and repeatedly in these units.
  • Identifying leaks. Leaks in an industrial setting are often referred to as "unaccounted-for-water." Administrators know water is being used in the building, they just do not know where. Usually the water is lost through leaks. This pertains most specifically to underground water tanks, heating and cooling systems, and water-using fixtures such as those in restrooms and kitchens, as well as leaks in supply lines.
  • Reusing "wash water." Water that is used for industrial purposes can often be filtered and cleaned. Essentially, the water is recycled and can be used repeatedly to clean raw materials.
  • Reducing production cleaning needs. With more limited or precise handling, items used for production may not need to be cleaned as often, helping to reduce water consumption.
  • Production scheduling. Improving production scheduling, planning, and sequencing helps minimize water consumption through more efficient use.
  • Cleaning in place (CIP). CIP is used for cleaning the interior surfaces of pipes along with equipment used for manufacturing and processing without the disassembly of the equipment. This should be expanded. In most cases, CIP uses far less water than cleaning equipment that has been disassembled.
  • Replacing old water-using mechanicals. Invariably, newer equipment used in production and manufacturing is designed to use less energy, fuel, and water than equipment manufactured even just 10 years ago.
  • Installing automatic shut-off valves. These should be installed in most water-using systems, including traditional water-using appliances. If a leak is detected, for instance, an automatic shut-off valve will stop the flow of water to the device.
  • Vegetation irrigation. Replacing high-water-consuming vegetation with natural vegetation is one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption. At a suburban office building, typically more water is used for landscaping than anything else. (Second is restrooms.)
  • Replacing restroom fixtures older than five years. Due to heavy use in an industrial location, even if a restroom fixture is designed to release a precise amount of water, over time, it may be releasing more, wasting water.

Water Monitoring
As you can see, there are several steps industrial facilities can take to reduce consumption and use water more efficiently. And there are many more than those listed here. What is always so interesting is that once a facility starts adopting water efficiency initiatives, new and unexpected ones are uncovered in the process.

But the first step in using water more efficiently is what can be called "water monitoring." Our goal here is to establish a benchmark; we want to know how much water is coming into the facility, how is it used, and for what reasons. To start monitoring water, we will need to answer several important questions:

What is the year-round water consumption? Many industrial locations will have busier times of the year when they use more water compared to other times. We want to know how much water is being consumed throughout the year. It is best to get three years of water consumption data to get a complete picture.

How much water is being used for the actual production of products? In an industrial setting, this will often be where the most water is used, and it is here we will want to look for the biggest improvement in efficiency.

How much water evaporates? This question refers to our close-looped systems mentioned earlier. Evaporated water is wasted water. Finding ways to capture it and reuse it is essential to water efficiency.

Is water wasted in restrooms? Earlier, we mentioned that restroom fixtures older than five years should be replaced. This is an opportune time to look for fixtures that use no water whatsoever. While it is still in its infancy, waterless toilets, often known as composting toilets, are being used in many modern factories around the globe. No-water or waterless urinals are now very commonplace in industrial restrooms.

We've discussed many ways to reduce water consumption and to use water more efficiently. Here is what we need to know: In coming years, the industrial sector will be pressed harder to reduce water consumption and use water more efficiently. With water- and sewage-related costs increasing, they will want to reduce consumption even further. But most of all, reducing consumption is possible and probably easier than expected, once the process begins.

About the Author

Klaus Reichardt is the CEO of Waterless Co., Inc. Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. Reichardt is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water conservation issues. He can be reached at klaus@waterless.com.

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