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Is Water Reuse too Risky for the Food & Beverage industry?

Environmental regulations and ballooning water costs are forcing many industries to use less water. While most are opting to reuse water there are a few industries still holding onto their old ways of doing things. In fact, one of our good clients recently discovered that he’s a bit of a pioneer in his industry.

Squeezed by environmental regulations

This client produces organic food and was recently confronted with a difficult situation. Environmental regulations meant that he couldn’t put his wastewater down the drain. The water he used to wash and rinse his equipment contained too much sugar and other organics to be discharged into the environment.

He had to find other options: perhaps he could haul the water away, maybe he could clean it up enough to discharge it or maybe he would have to move his plant somewhere he could discharge this water. After evaluating a variety of options, Durpro got the call to come see if we could help sort things out.

Forced to be a pioneer

Our team studied a number of possibilities with this client and only one possibility really seemed acceptable. In fact, it seemed awesome. Not only would the plant’s water be cleaned up enough to be released to the environment, it would be clean enough to reuse! In fact, his water discharge would be reduced by 95% and all the water discharged could go straight to his septic system.

This is where we give our client a big, resounding hi-5 for being a real pioneer in his industry. You see, the words “water reuse” have been taboo in the food & beverage industry because of the perceived risk of contamination. The fact is, though, that today’s technologies allow us to reliably clean up some wastewater streams so that they’ll be fit for human consumption. Of course these types of treatment systems need to be designed with extreme reliability in mind. We got a huge helping hand from GE Water & Process Technologies in designing the final system. Given Durpro’s and GE’s track records our client was willing to try something new and to push the envelope in a very risk-averse industry. Kudos to him.

So, how did it all turn out?

So far so good, and we’re confident it’s going to keep going well. Obviously, like any complex system there were some kinks to iron out at start-up time. Things are now very well on their way to running smoothly and the client is very happy with the results. We’re still in the very early stages, so we can’t boast too loudly about a perfect track record just yet. That’ll need to wait a few years.

So, what technologies were involved?

To put it simply, the plant now has two water sources: softened well water to make up for the 5% discharge and evaporation losses and a small (very small – 2.7gpm) membrane bio-reactor (MBR) system to clean up the rest of the water for reuse. For some added safety all production water is filtered by 0.2 micron filter cartridges and treated with a UV sterilizer.

This is the kind of project we love

We spend a lot of our time and energy grinding out quotes and proposals for systems that, for us, require almost no creativity. We already know how to solve the problem so it’s just a question of convincing the client and executing well. While those projects keep the lights on and can have a great positive impact for our clients, we do take a little extra pleasure in doing something a bit more edgy.

It’s really fun, once in a while, to get involved in a project like this one where there’s potential to massively change the way a given industry uses water. We loved working with GE’s engineering team to design the miniature MBR system needed for this project. Usually, an MBR this small can’t be done economically, but we were happy to find a way to make it all come together for the client.

Ok, enough boasting. If you’ve got a water reuse project in mind or if you’ve got your own water saving initiative to boast about, please share in the comment section below.

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