Water recovery makes rands and sense

As the world draws public attention to the importance of water in March, Talbot CEO Carl Haycock describes how the recovery of large volumes of wastewater from industrial processes isn’t just an achievable reality but an outright necessity.

Talbot, which delivers sustainable water and wastewater solutions across Africa, regularly engages big business on the very real water supply and quality risks faced by industry.

“Industrial and mining stakeholders are becoming increasingly conscious of the need to develop their water resilience and the significant environmental and financial opportunities recovery and reuse present,” says Haycock.

Recognising water’s strategic and financial importance to industrial clients, Talbot has brought on board a water economist and risk and strategy expert.

”We undertake assessments for clients throughout southern Africa to investigate their current and future impacts. Wherever we work, we’re seeing the same trend – water availability and quality are becoming a major risk to industry,” he says, adding that companies need to start by understanding their water situations and then develop strategies to minimise their risk.

The rising cost of water

The price of water has risen dramatically in South Africa over the past decade and will continue to do so as growing demand, scarce supply and failing infrastructure drive tariffs upward.

The good news is that water recovery typically makes financial sense with a positive return on investment – often over relatively short periods.

“We help clients understand the business case for wastewater treatment and water recovery and what impacts a project will have through financial modelling,” he says, pointing out that as the total cost of water rises, so too does the financial viability of water recovery projects.

Technical opportunities

Recovering water from wastewater is a well-developed process.

“We installed our first water recovery plant in Africa back in 2007, and it has operated successfully for over a decade now. The most important thing when designing a solution is understanding what you are working with. This means gaining a clear picture of a client’s effluent stream in our laboratories before starting on a system’s design.”

Turning effluent into clean, clear and reusable water varies from case to case and the technologies that may be employed include anaerobic digestion, aerobic treatment, reverse osmosis, filtration and disinfection.

The treatment process, he says, is tailored around the solids, organics, nutrients, salts, colour, taste, odour and micro-biologicals that can be found in each client’s unique effluent stream, with every stage being designed to address these elements. The added benefit of the anaerobic digestion phase is that it can generate biogas – which can be used to produce energy in the form of electricity, heat or steam.

“What people don’t realise is that the water produced is the same or better quality than that which comes out of our taps. Strict testing protocols ensure that qualities remain consistent,” explains Haycock while addressing the question of the social acceptance of reusing water.

The opportunity is there, and Talbot encourages its clients to take it. By doing so, they not only strengthen their resilience to water risks, but typically enjoy positive financial returns. By doing so, industry can effectively support the country in addressing the growing water crisis.