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WASTEWATER TREATMENT

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters, Attempting Conservation Efforts

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Water is a finite resource, which is becoming constrained with the growing population and climate change. It is a vital component in production of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. From growing raw materials (such as wheat or barley) for beverages, through product development, till the production process, water is indispensable at each step. The beverage industry has come to realize that water scarcity could tremendously impact businesses, forcing them to reassess water management strategies and tap into efficient conservation measures.

Water covers around 70% of the earth’s surface and only 3% is available as freshwater, which can be used for various commercial and non-commercial activities. Unfortunately, this quantity of water is inadequate for growing population and thriving businesses using this resource without considering its limited availability. According to WWF, an international NGO for preservation of wilderness and nature, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortage by 2025, with demand for water exceeding supply by 40% by 2030.

Beverage production is highly water-intensive, with water being used at each step across the value chain. According to Water Footprint Network, it takes at least 70 liters of water to produce 0.5 liter of soda, 74 liters of water for a glass of 0.25 liter of beer, and 132 liters of water for a cup of 0.125 liter of coffee. Water footprint for beverage companies is evidently high, and this can be mitigated by implementing water management technologies across the value chain, from farming to beverage production.

Water scarcity posing challenges for beverage producers

Water stress is a pressing problem for all beverage industry players, causing various operational challenges that are impacting business operations.

Opposition to water extraction from natural resources

California suffered a searing seven year drought that ended in 2017. Distress from water scarcity impacted communities, as well as companies operating in the region. For instance, Nestlé, a Swiss multinational food and beverage company, faced opposition from local communities and criticism from conservationists for extracting large quantities of water from Californian springs even during the drought-stricken years.

These events impacted Nestlé’s operations and eventually, succumbing to the pressure, Nestlé invested US$7 million in conservation projects across five of its bottling plants in California in 2017. The projects focused primarily on reducing the amount of water used in filtration process while simultaneously maintaining hygiene of the processing plant. Only after consistent water conservation efforts, Nestlé was granted a three-year permit by US Forest Service in 2018 to extract water within the limit of 8.5 million gallons annually from Californian springs.

Similarly to Nestlé, Coca-Cola faced opposition from local communities in India resulting in closures of two of its bottling plants located in the states of Kerala (in 2004) and Uttar Pradesh (in 2014), due to extensive water extraction from local resources. In order to sustain operations, Coca-Cola announced plans to invest about US$5 billion between 2012 and 2020 to help replenish groundwater in India, allowing the company to also use water for beverage production.

Water shortage impacting business operations

According to global survey of 600 companies by Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), water scarcity and stricter environmental regulations cost businesses around US$14 billion in 2016. Many companies agreed that water-related issues have affected their businesses directly or indirectly.

For instance, severe droughts in Southeast Brazil in 2014 and 2015 disrupted water supply in the area, limiting production capacity and disturbing operations of Danone, a French multinational food and beverage corporation. As a result the company suffered sales loss of ~US$6 million in 2015.

Not only Danone was affected. As Brazil is one of the world’s leading coffee producers, limited availability of water for irrigation due to the drought, crop production in the region took a hit. Eventually, the situation threatened supply, which led to higher raw material prices for coffee manufacturers. One of the producers that felt the repercussions was J.M. Smucker, an American producer of food and beverages, reported a net loss of US$90.3 million in 2015 due to higher coffee bean prices in Brazil.

Tapping into innovations to reduce water consumption

Water risk for beverage companies highly depends on external factors, such as water quality and availability either through natural resources or municipal bodies. Industry players have very little control over the external factors but can regulate water usage in their internal manufacturing operations to reduce consumption.

Recycling water using zero water technology

Beverage companies are collaborating with technology providers to incorporate innovative water recycling methods.

For instance, in 2014, Nestlé collaborated with Veolia Group (a French company providing water, waste, and energy management solutions) and GEA Group (a German food processing technology firm), to introduce Cero Agua (zero water) technology across dairy production plant in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Using the technology, the factory does not have to rely on external water sources. Instead, it recycles and reuses the waste fluid extracted from milk – Nestlé extracts 1ml of water from every 1.6ml of milk. The treated water is used in non-food production applications such as cooling, irrigating the gardens, and cleaning, thus, eliminating the need to depend on external water sources. The company has invested around US$15 million to introduce zero water technology in the plant.

With the help of this technology Nestlé claims to have saved 168 million liters of water in the first year of implementation, reducing water consumption by more than 50%. Zero water technology has been rolled out across its other diary factories located in water-stressed areas of South Africa, India, China, to list a few.

Moreover, between 2004 and 2014, Nestlé claims it was able to reduce water consumption globally by one third and by 50% across its Mexican plants.

Onsite wastewater treatment

Brewing companies are not far from adopting technologies to reduce water footprint. Waste water treatment is one of the effective ways to reuse water and several brewing companies have jumped on the bandwagon to conserve water using this approach.

Since 2014, Lagunitas Brewing Company, a subsidiary of Heineken, has been using EcoVolt membrane bioreactor, a wastewater treatment technology that removes up to 90% pollutants from water so that it can be reused onsite for cleaning purposes. Using this solution, the company has reduced its water footprint by approximately 40%.

In 2016, Bear Republic Brewing Company, a brewery based in California, invested US$4 million in a waste water treatment system that uses electrically active microbes to purify wastewater, which helps the brewery to recycle about 25% of water that it uses to clean factory equipment.

Furthermore, in 2015, a Boston-based craft brewer, Harpoon Brewery, collaborated with Desalitech, a US-based water treatment company, to produce beer made from treated Charles River water. Desalitech uses its ReFlex Reverse Osmosis systems to purify the river water and has been able to recover 93% of the treated river water to brew beer.

Innovative farming techniques

Farming is highly water-intensive and sustainable beverage production can only be achieved if water consumption is cut down during farming. Hence, companies are employing various water management solutions to check water utilization during farming.

In 2014, Anheuser-Busch, an American brewing company installed six AgriMets, a network of agricultural weather stations, in Idaho to provide farmers with real-time weather and crop water use data. Using AgriMet data, growers can monitor rainfall and soil conditions, which helps them to cut down on the amount of water required in irrigation and decide when to irrigate. This ensures efficient use of water across the fields.

Further, for improving water management, the company is employing various seeding and harvesting techniques – for instance, it plants and harvests winter barley earlier in the year, resulting in 30% higher crop yield and 40% lower water usage.

PepsiCo and Coco-Cola have been promoting drip irrigation (a type of irrigation system where water is allowed to drip slowly to the roots minimizing evaporation) in water-scarce Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, among others. Coca-Cola started with drip irrigation project in 2008 with 27 farmers covering 13.5 hectares of agricultural land in India, which expanded to over 513 drip irrigation systems installed, stretching across 256.5 hectares of agricultural land by 2011. Drip irrigation leads to significant water conservation, with an average saving of 1200 kiloliter/ hectare of water for a cropping cycle of 110 days/hectare (an agricultural cycle comprising activities related to the growth and harvest of crops). Additionally, savings on account of electricity, fertilizers, and pesticides are estimated at about US$ 29/hectare/year.

Beverage Industry in Troubled Waters - EOS Intelligence

EOS Perspective

For decades, water has been regarded as free commodity in processing and manufacturing environments, but this notion is beginning to change with growing awareness about water scarcity. Limited availability of water puts pressure on industrial activities and often pushes operational costs of beverage companies up. Availability of water is likely to get worse in the future, which could jeopardize operations of food and beverage companies unless the crisis is treated as a priority.

The solution to water scarcity lies in the hands of businesses as much as the governments of various countries. Water management requires stringent policies by the governments to better regulate the use of groundwater or natural resources for irrigation. The governments also need to implement efficient wastewater management and recycling technologies to conserve water. Countries such as Singapore have undertaken water recycling and management measures, but unfortunately such examples are relatively scarce in other parts of the world, with most conservation efforts being implemented only by large food and beverage companies. It is time that the governments as well as all industry players (including small-to-mid sized companies) wake up to the challenges that lie ahead owing to water stress.

Solutions to water scarcity do not always need to be expensive. Small-to-mid sized companies could start with small and inexpensive measures such as installing flow meters or leak detection systems, measuring water usage at each step and setting short and long term goals to reduce consumption across those processes.

Other measures could be to reduce water consumption across most water intensive processes, such as cleaning, which typically accounts for 60% of a beverage plant’s total water consumption. Water could be replaced with dry ice to manually wash equipment or it can be physically cleaned using vacuum systems or high-pressure hoses that can be used to move debris.

Nonetheless, sustainable water management efforts by large beverage companies have resulted in lowering of operational costs, improvement in quality of final products, and in building better brand perception among customers. These strategic advantages could motivate all industry players to reduce water footprint and play their part as responsible water users.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

China’s Water Crises Set to Boost Private Investment

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The past two decades of a rapid industrialization in China have heavily impacted the country’s water supply and quality, resulting in almost two thirds of groundwater and close to one third of main rivers being classified as not suitable for direct human contact. The country is in a water crisis and wastewater treatment continues to be a key concern. The government is making efforts to strengthen the wastewater treatment industry, leading to an increase in investment and the number of joint ventures in the development of wastewater treatment plants.

The country’s 13th Five Year Plan provides ample opportunities for the private sector and foreign companies to bring in advanced technologies to support the country’s environmental targets, as under the Plan, the government plans to increase investment in wastewater treatment plants by 35% between 2016 and 2020. These plans have made China a great prospect for foreign investors, who can leverage on their experience and high-end technology to enter the local market, now receiving great governmental support, as wastewater treatment has become an integral part of the country’s environmental goals, following decades of neglect and a slow pace of pollutants reduction.

Opportunities appear vast, especially that many needed technologies are not available from local providers. For instance, ultrapure water treatment in pharmaceutical and microelectronics industries require advanced technical know-how which domestic companies are currently unable to offer. This provides opportunities for international players who can provide the necessary technology for the requirement of high quality water in semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries, both of which are witnessing a double-digit growth in China. Other needed but locally unavailable technologies include zero liquid discharge (ZLD) solutions that are compulsory in the coal-to-chemical wastewater treatment plants. Further, advanced wastewater treatment applications such as nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, and membrane bioreactor systems, which allow users to treat wastewater to a high standard, are required to comply with the new Chinese wastewater discharge standards. Such high-end applications can be offered by foreign companies who can thus gain a major foothold in the market.

What has greatly contributed to making the industry increasingly lucrative for suppliers of wastewater treatment technologies and equipment, are the legislative changes aimed at dealing with environmental issues. With a desperate need to improve environmental protection, the government introduced numerous policies regarding wastewater discharge and emission standards. Prior to the introduction of the new policies in 2015, state-owned enterprises were able to disregard the existing regulations, typically without any legal consequences. However, the new water pollution action plan has led to an increase in water and wastewater tariffs and higher wastewater discharge standards. The government has also tightened the facility inspections to ensure that the rules are being followed, and non-compliance to these regulations could now lead to a shutdown of the facility.

These stricter regulations offer significant opportunity for international players who can offer sound technologies which domestic companies are not capable of providing. For instance, less than a half of the 3,300 industrial parks in China have installed a centralized treatment plant. As per the new regulation, all industrial parks are required to install such plants by the end of 2017. The administration departments of these parks are now looking for appropriate solutions providers to meet this requirement. Fine chemical and petrochemical industrial parks, in particular, provide the greatest opportunities for foreign players as their wastewater treatment needs require high-end technology that is not available in the country.


EOS Perspective

China’s problem of efficiently managing its water resources has provided a boost to the country’s wastewater industry. The government’s willingness to support environmental protection even at the cost of industrial profits has made the country one of the largest markets for wastewater treatment in the world. With the use of various wastewater technologies, the country continues to grow its sewage processing capacity (around 3,717 wastewater treatment plants as of 2014, including Shanghai’s Bailonggang plant, world’s second largest wastewater treatment plant with capacity of 528 million gallons per day as of 2013). Ecologically progressive 13th Five Year Plan and the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan (also called Water Ten Plan) could lead to a flourishing wastewater treatment market with significant growth potential of annual investment of over US$ 6 billion.

Increase in investment and change in regulatory requirements have created ample opportunities for international players, primarily in terms of the much needed technical know-how and experience that domestic players are incapable of offering. International players such as Aquatech and Oasys Water have already leveraged on this and started gaining traction in the market. The entrance of international players could lead to increased competition in the market. Even though domestic players, supported by the state, will continue to have a strong foothold in the market, the rising demand for technical expertise is likely to make foreign players grab market share in the near future.

These prospects for international players are likely to be materialized as the Chinese government has introduced effective enforcement mechanisms to ensure that new regulations are being followed by wastewater treatment plants. It is promising that there are reported cases of heavy fines being levied on these plants. For instance, Hebei province in China spent around US$ 153,000 for the installation of automatic inspection systems at 210 wastewater treatment plants. Further, six wastewater treatment plants in the province were fined a total of US$ 3.3 million in 2015 for discharging excessive pollutants, post the introduction of the new regulations. If the government continues with its efforts for stricter enforcement, polluting plants will be forced to implement the required technologies, a step that will be welcomed by international wastewater treatment solution providers capable of offering such technologies.

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