Interview with Snehal Desai, Global Marketing Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions – Continued from Part 1.
3P: Are any your systems being powered by renewable energy?
SD: In Australia we are seeing some desalination systems looking at renewables and in the Middle East as well, though these systems will probably need some kind of backup to ensure round-the-clock operation
3P: Isn’t desalination very energy intensive?
SD: It depends on what you compare it to. Thermal desalination is very energy intensive. Reverse osmosis is considerably less so. In addition to the significant improvements we’ve made in energy efficiency of these systems (upwards of 50% over the past 10-20 years) we are also seeing them combined with energy recovery turbines, which recapture a significant amount of the pumping energy required by the operation at efficiencies greater than 80%.
3P: Do you have a vision for industry’s role in water conservation?
SD: What we believe is that industry is critical to making the economy run, but it is also in a better position to be able to make more efficient and more effective use of the water that they get their hands on. The shift that we are seeing is that not only are companies now able to discharge water that is as clean or cleaner than what they took in, but now they are reusing it themselves, and closing the loop, which means that they can withdraw less from the supply. That’s the trend we see going down the road. Yes, there are withdrawals from the ocean and desalination, but not everyone lives near the coast. Overall, it’s a closed loop, zero-discharge, system, that’s where we’re headed. I think you’re seeing a lot of progress where companies are really looking at their water use and improving it. Some of it will be driven, more locally, by legislation as well as cost pressures.
3P: Which incentive do you think we’re going to mostly see, legislation and restriction or cost?
SD: On a recent trip to India, I saw a 16-unit apartment building that they wanted to knock down and put up a 25-unit building. But they were told that their water allocation would not be increased, so they will need to figure out a different scheme. In China, it is more a matter of mandates, saying, you will reuse. It will be a combination of both but there will be economic pressures brought to bear on industry to use water much more efficiently. I think you will see higher prices for industry while we try to maintain an affordable price for residents and agriculture.
One of the other things we’ve been thinking about is this notion of embedded water. How much water goes into a pair of blue jeans, for instance, or a computer? People are becoming more aware of this and may start to demand better performance as consumers.
3P: What challenges to you see as you look ahead?
SD: From a business point of view the challenge is that the opportunities are immense, so deciding which ones to pursue can be a challenge. There are new technologies and new approaches coming forth every day and it’s a challenge to stay on top of those. When the price dynamics around water start to change from country to country, I think we are going to see a real surge in people looking for solutions that are ready for the market, not because it’s a nice thing to do but because it will absolutely be a requirement.
The other challenge I see is this connection between water and energy. Looking at ways to reduce both the water need to drive energy processes and the energy needed to drive water processes, those challenges are on the forefront of our agenda, working with our partners to reduce those requirements. For example, we have a loose affiliation with the battery industry. They have a need for precious metals, some of which can be extracted and recovered from waste streams using our ion exchange technology, while making that a much cleaner process at the same time.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
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