Industry, Municipalities Embracing Water Reuse

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Courtesy of Fluence Corporation

When cities produce recycled water and sell it to industries at a good price, it’s a win-win situation

In the United States, industry accounts for 87% of withdrawals of fresh water. Considering this staggering statistic, along with increasingly unpredictable water supplies, it’s no surprise that industries’ investment in water reuse is trending. Companies are both building their own wastewater reuse plants and partnering with municipal water systems.

Municipal water systems already treat sewage to a standard that is suitable for environmental discharge, but simply releasing valuable fresh water makes little sense when it can be sold.

In industry, recycled water is used for manufacturing process water, in energy generation, for oil and gas exploration, as well as a host of other applications. In many cases, recycled water doesn’t need to meet potable standards, although sometime ultrapure water is required.

Increased Interest in Water Reuse

Industrial users buying reclaimed wastewater at considerable savings from municipal water systems that sell it for a profit is an idea that holds a great deal of untapped potential.

Bluefield Research recently forecast that industrial use of recycled municipal wastewater will rise 72% by 2027. In terms of use of water from municipal water systems, the hydroelectric power industry is by far the largest sector, and so far, the most beneficial uses of recycled water have been power plants, refineries, and the upstream oil and gas industry. But the list of industries exploring the opportunity is growing quickly. Some examples:

  • In Hillsboro, Oregon, Intel has built a $25 million water-recycling plant, and plans to ultimately return 100% of its wastewater to the community. Intel estimates that it has saved more than 60 billion gallons of water over 20 years.
  • Salesforce is constructing the nation’s largest onsite water reuse system for a commercial building into its Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Water from the rooftop, cooling towers, and bathroom fixtures will all be treated and returned in a system of pipes for non-potable uses such as irrigation and toilet flushing, saving up to 30,000 GPD of fresh water.
  • Airport water reuse systems have been popping up in water-stressed areas in Florida, Hawaii, California, and Arizona. Twenty-two existing or planned airport water reuse systems have been or will be commissioned between 2002 and 2023, at a total cost of $1.78 billion. Airport-associated industries like airlines and rental car companies also are investing in water reuse.

Reuse Projections

Bluefield has identified California, Florida, and Texas as continued hotspots for water reuse investment, but other states also are expected to invest more in water reuse this year. The power sector, food and beverage industry, and data centers are predicted to maintain demand for water reuse systems. Companies seeing success in water reuse have adopted a range of approaches, including developing and promoting cutting-edge technologies, as well as partnering with cities and industrial off-takers.

Municipalities will ramp-up investment in reuse by 15% over 10 years, in comparison to investment in general municipal water infrastructure, which is only expected to grow by 1%. The lion’s share of capital outlay for reuse in the coming decade will be:

  • 42% toward pipes
  • 40% toward advanced treatment technology
  • 13% toward design and engineering

With water supplies on the decrease and demand on the increase, industry is quickly tapping into the vast frontier of water reuse. Forbes’ Christopher P. Skroupa sanguinely characterized the opportunity, saying:

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