Custom-Made Technologies - International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology highlights ways to meet the challenges of the national and International water management industry


Source: Koelnmesse

The challenges in the international water and liquid waste industry are diverse. From a global point of view, the chief task is ensuring that about a sixth of humanity can have access to clean water in the first place. Viewed locally, the industrially advanced countries, in particular, such as those in the European Union, could be directed to rely on the development of ultra-modern technologies to remove the growing volume of new pollutants from liquid wastes. This range of know-how is dealt with fully at Entsorga-Enteco 2006 — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology, which will take place from 24th to 27th October 2006 in Cologne. The product segment 'Water & Liquid Water' will attract the interest of trade visitors by virtue of both the innovative product solutions and services of the exhibiting companies and the accompanying supporting programme. One whole day of the fair is devoted to the topic 'water supply industry.' The daily program includes events such as the conference 'Protection of Global Water Resources — Modern Water Management for Conservational Usage', the workshop 'Sewer Cleaning' organised by the Federation of the German Waste Management Industry (BDE), and an event organised by the Water Management Initiative NRW (German state: North Rhine-Westphalia).

The world's fresh water resources comprise more than 40,000 cubic kilometres of water. One quarter of that is groundwater; the rest comes from rivers, streams and lakes. It’s a reservoir of scarcely conceivable size, and yet it represents only about 2.5 per cent of the planet earth’s entire water supply. About 97.5 per cent is pure salt water unfit for drinking. Of the drinkable freshwater reserves, only about ten per cent, or approximately 4,000 cubic kilometres, is currently used. Seventy per cent of that is used in agriculture, 20 per cent by industry, and ten per cent by private households, according to the current figures of the World Resources Institute (Washington D.C., USA).

Does this mean there are no signs of an urgent situation in terms of water scarcity? Viewed globally, that is surely correct. From a regional perspective, however, it is not true. Alarming figures released by the United Nations show that approximately one billion people currently do not have access to clean drinking water. That is almost one-sixth of the world's population of 6.4 billion people. In Latin America and the Caribbean, at least, roughly two-thirds of residents have access to water supply systems. In Asia the percentage is less than half, and barely one quarter of the people in Africa have access.

An even greater number — 2.4 billion people — have no sanitary facilities, let alone sewers or wastewater treatment plants. Each year more than two million people die of illnesses related to poor water quality. And every day, about two million tons of waste and chemicals from industry, households and agriculture end up untreated in rivers and lakes.

It is no wonder that the General Assembly of the United Nations put the protection of the vital resource water on its list of 'Millennium Goals' in the year 2000. In this case, the Millennium Goal objective is to reduce by half the number of people without access to safe and affordable water by the year 2015. Two years later, at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the same target was set for the part of the world's population not yet linked to sanitary facilities.

These are ambitious targets that cannot be met by technical means alone. In most developing countries, for example, it will first be necessary to create the legal and organisational conditions for a functioning system of water and liquid waste management. Without support from countries with more comprehensive experience in this field, that will hardly be possible.

Such countries are found in Europe, for example. In the 25 countries of the European Union (EU), about 300 cubic kilometres of fresh water are consumed per year, ten per cent of the total volume available. About a third of that is needed by agriculture; another third is used for cooling purposes in the generation of electricity. One quarter of the total is consumed by private households for cooking, washing dishes and clothing, cleaning and bathing. Thirteen per cent is left over for industrial or commercial production. For most Europeans, access to clean drinking water in sufficient quantities is a matter of course. In almost every EU member country, more than 90 per cent of the population is connected to the public drinking water system.

Clear technological advances

In the EU countries, considerable advances have been made in the last 20 years in the area of liquid waste treatment, too. The great majority of the population is now linked to sewage networks and wastewater treatment plants. There are still a few regional differences, however. In the countries of northwestern Europe, for example, more than 90 per cent of the residents live in households connected to sewage systems. The southern European EU members, on the other hand, lag behind somewhat with connection rates of between 50 and 80 per cent. It is the new EU member countries in eastern Europe that have the most catching up to do: Their connection rates are mostly below 60 per cent.

In the same period, technologies for wastewater treatment have been significantly improved. After the mechanical removal of solid materials and the subsequent biological purification, a third cleansing step has become established in Europe. It represses nitrogen and phosphorus compounds to a considerable degree. These are nutrients which, when present in excess, lead to increased growth of algae and other forms of vegetable life and thus disrupt the biological equilibrium of bodies of water. In northern and central Europe, in particular, at least two thirds and sometimes up to 90 per cent of the liquid wastes are treated in three stages before they are fed into outlets, including rivers and lakes.

This is a result, in part, of the European 'Directive on Communal Waste Water Treatment' of 1991. This directive obligates the EU member countries to establish what are called “sensitive areas” that must be protected from excessive nutrient levels. These might be freshwater lakes, for example. Waste waters in these areas must be purified in the third stage so that their phosphorous levels are reduced by 80 per cent and their nitrogen levels cut by at least 70 per cent.

The second important legal requirement of the EU is the Water Framework Directive from the year 2000. It marked the starting point for an integrated policy of water protection in Europe, one ensuring coordinated management across national borders of waters within river catchments. The process of determining the river areas affected has already been completed, nationally and internationally, as has an initial assessment.

As a target, the directive specifies that all European above-ground and subterranean waters are to be put in 'good condition' by 2015. According to the directive, bodies of water may be used by people, but only insofar as their ecological functions are not substantially impeded. The requirements to be met in order for water to be deemed in “good condition” are described in detail in a comprehensive appendix to the directive for the various types of water bodies.

The Federal Republic of Germany ranks alongside Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria as one of the EU countries that are playing a pioneering role in water protection and have already satisfied the requirements of the communal waste waters directive. Ninety-five per cent of the approximately 80 million citizens of Germany live in households connected to the public sewage network, and 93 per cent live in residences linked to public sewage treatment plants. All the sewage treatment plants have a biological waste water treatment facility, and about 95 per cent are even equipped to complete the third stage, in which nutrients are eliminated. In the last three decades, the German municipalities have invested about €120 billion in order to achieve this standard of treatment.

Equipped for new challenges

Even countries with highly advanced water and liquid waste management systems will still face enormous challenges in the future. In Germany, for example, these include the following:

- Organization and market: Since 2002, industry associations and policymakers have been working on a modernisation of the German water supply industry. The German water market is very fragmented, with nearly 7,000 waste management enterprises that operate more than 10,000 sewage treatment plants and more than 6,500 supply companies with almost 18,000 water works. What’s more, it is still primarily controlled by public agencies. In order to achieve company sizes that are at least more economically advantageous, alliances and even mergers should be encouraged among neighbouring suppliers and waste treatment companies. Another element of the modernisation strategy is the introduction of a standard benchmarking system nationwide to enable a transparent comparison of performance that would uncover potential for cost reductions. These would then be passed on to citizens in the form of reduced fees for water supply and sewage disposal. Increased participation of private know-how in the water market should also be supported, by means including the creation of fairer conditions of competition between private and municipal companies.

- Sewer renovation: The roughly 500,000-kilometer-long sewer network that has grown up over the last 100 years is gradually becoming in need of more and more maintenance and, above all, renovation outlays. According to the German Association for Water, Wastewater and Waste (DWA, Hennef), around 20 per cent of the public sewage network will be in need of repair and renovation in the short or medium term. The cost: at least €55 billion. In order to sustain the property value of the network, which is approximately €330 billion, over the long term, two to three times that amount is probably necessary. In view of continually shrinking municipal budgets, this is a task that cannot be managed without the know-how and capital of the private sector.

- New pollutant problems: Substances that have largely gone unnoticed until now, such as environmental chemicals and pharmaceuticals for people and farm animals, are causing growing problems in bodies of water. They enter the environment via sewer systems or liquid manure and dung and are increasingly being detected in surface waters and in groundwater. Certain pharmaceutical agents, for example, can disrupt the hormonal balance of fish and other aquatic life and lead to pernicious changes. Even with the three-stage wastewater treatment, the chemicals and pharmaceutical agents can only be partially eliminated. In the coming years, some of the German sewage treatment plants will therefore have to be upgraded with modern systems that use membrane technology, according to the Council of Environmental Advisors of the German government. However, micro-membranes and ultrafiltration membranes only hold back chemicals and drugs adsorbed on solids. In order to catch them in dissolved form as well, it is necessary to install downstream elements incorporating nanofiltration or complex oxidation processes using ozone or peroxide in addition to an activated carbon filtering system. Considerable research is still required in order to optimise these processes technologically and economically.

This is only a small sampling of the topics and technologies that will be presented as part of the focus on 'Water & Liquid Waste' at Entsorga-Enteco 2006 — International Trade Fair for Waste Management and Environmental Technology, which will take place from 24th to 27th October at the Cologne exhibition centre.

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