It’s time to embrace new ways of doing things to help ensure our water future
Is there a substance more vital to human life than fresh, clean water? It’s in the same league as air and food, yet somehow, humanity always finds a way to take it for granted. In 2005, the United States Environmental Protection Agency established National Water Quality Month to remind us of water’s importance. Since then, August has been a month for public conversation on clean water, and Fluence would like to contribute some ideas to the 2022 discussion.
Wastewater Resource Recovery
Everyone knows that treating wastewater is good for the environment. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the U.S. has had clear guidance in preventing water pollution. Now, the water sector is shifting from simply treating wastewater to a new paradigm of resource recovery.
Wastewater carries valuable resources, including biomass, water for reuse, minerals such as struvite, and more. And, anaerobic digestion recovers more than enough energy to power treatment. Excess energy, in the form of biogas, can even be sold in established markets.
As it becomes more difficult to provide enough water for human activities, water itself might be the most valuable resource that can be recovered from wastewater. Reusing municipal or commercial wastewater virtually increases the volume of available water for nonpotable applications, taking the strain off natural water resources, lowering costs, and leaving water clean.
At a time when environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investors are growing increasingly wary of greenwashing and vague claims of sustainability, wastewater reuse and resource recovery offer unmistakable advantages that can establish a venture as an environmental sustainability leader.
Today, a number of factors are making it easier for businesses to embrace sustainability. These include advances in treatment technologies and modular treatment units that simplify installation, as well as financing contracts that bundle long-term operations and maintenance, making it easier to establish water management.
Through its Water Management Services, Fluence offers modular NIROBOX™ desalination and Aspiral™ wastewater treatment units under BOO and BOOT contracts. Treatment not only protects the environment from pollution, but also allows production and quality control of process water, reduces dependence on scarce water resources, and lowers water costs.
And, companies that develop a sustainable water management plan gain an important opportunity to attract ESG investment.
Treating Agricultural Runoff
Agricultural runoff is an enormous problem in the U.S., causing harmful algal blooms and dead zones in downstream bodies of water, but because it’s not classified as a point source of pollution, it’s not regulated under the Clean Water Act. The EPA, however, is taking a new look at ways to use the Clean Water Act to regulate agricultural runoff. Many growers are now looking for ways to clean up their operations on their own to avoid such regulation.
When fertilizer-loaded runoff is directed into ditches or drainage tiles (networks of drainage pipes below fields), it can be treated for safe discharge or irrigation. Fluence’s Aspiral™ modular units can treat high-nutrient runoff with membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology. The units’ energy requirements are low enough that they can be powered by alternative energy sources such as solar in remote agricultural areas.
One of the water sector’s greatest challenges in the U.S. is replacement of aging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers has gone so far as to give the U.S. a grade of D+ on its wastewater infrastructure, which includes many pipelines and plants that are nearing the end of their usefulness. It’s what the organization has dubbed the “Replacement Era.”
The cost of replacing infrastructure, especially pipes, may even be too high to finance. It’s time to break out of the outdated paradigm of centralized treatment and embrace the less-expensive model of decentralized treatment.
Decentralized treatment uses an array of smaller, scalable plants located at sources of need. Multiple decentralized plants can deliver the same capacity as a single large-scale, central plant with lower cost and newer technology. Reducing pipelines also reduces water lost through leaks.
A Way Forward
National Water Quality Month seeks to raise awareness as a catalyst for action, but many obstacles stand between the desire for a clean water future and the infrastructure needed to secure it. Contact Fluence to learn about the Water Management Services financing that can help remove those obstacles.