Chemical Engineering

WATER ASSESSMENTS: In Search of Hidden Dividends

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Courtesy of Chemical Engineering

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A close look at all aspects of your water- and wastewater-treatment systems can reveal opportunities for cost savings, improved operation, reduced downtime and better water conservation.

Avariety of factors dictate the water-treatment needs of any chemical process plant. For instance, many industries depend on high-quality inlet water to produce their end products. Meanwhile, wastewater generated by chemical process operations must be treated to meet local, state and federal environmental guidelines. Many industrial plants are also working to reduce the total volume of water they use, to conserve this valuable and increasingly costly resource.

For these reasons, it is vitally important that a facility’s water- and wastewater-treatment systems operate in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. By carrying out a comprehensive, onsite water assessment, engineers can gain critical insight into their operations and uncover ways to ensure cost-effective operation and guarantee consistent compliance with water-quality standards while conserving water. And in many cases, such an assessment can help engineers to improve operations and maintenance practices in a way that reduces costs and downtime.

Water assessments: The what and why

A water assessment consists of a review of all equipment that is used to treat process water and wastewater at the plant. Process operators should conduct a water assessment whenever they suspect a possible problem, either because they are not getting the desired quality and quantity of water, or because the individual unit processes are performing below expectations or specifications (this aspect is discussed in detail later).

However, you don’t have to wait until there is a problem. Perhaps your water-treatment equipment is old and you’re wondering if it would make sense to upgrade or replace individual components or the whole system. Perhaps you would like to know if your plant is using water in the most efficient manner to reduce operating costs and encourage recycling and reuse. By conducting a water assessment at your facility, you can identify equipment that needs to be tuned up or replaced, and determine whether additional equipment should be added to enhance the treatment capabilities of the existing system, in terms of economics, throughput volume or pollutant-removal capabilities.

The system-wide evaluation will also give you the opportunity to evaluate whether any additional equipment that may be needed as a result of the assessment should be handled as a purchased, permanently installed system, a build-own-operate system, or a temporary mobile system. Such a decision will depend on the site-specific operational needs and budget. In general, it also makes sense to schedule an assessment before every scheduled plant outage, so that any work that needs to be done can be completed in an orderly fashion during the planned facility downtime.

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