Global boom for upgrading wastewaster treatment

Governments and water utilities across the world will be investing some $28 billion this year to improve their existing wastewater treatment infrastructure, a new report by Lux Research has found.

The report published last week by the Boston-based independent research house estimated that water managers globally will spend aboout USD$27.8 billion for advanced wastewater treatment technologies in 2012.

That spend will provide an additional global wastewater treatment capacity of 16.3 million cubic metres (m3) per day.

The report noted that wastewater technologies most commonly used by cities today “gobble enormous amounts of energy, send megatons of toxic sludge to landfills and incinerators, and throw away valuable water that many communities could reuse”.

Using specialised filters and other techniques, advanced wastewater treatments can clean wastewater such that the water and other byproducts can by recycled, and in some cases used for energy production.

The investments into new technologies are aimed at taking advantage of these opportunities. More than half of the money – 55 per cent – will be spent on upgrading or replacing old treatment plants in urban areas, many of which are in developing countries.

Of the potential advanced wastewater projects identified across the globe by Lux Research, 15 per cent were new facilities, while the rest of the projects involved upgrading or expanding existing plants.

China and the United States are the largest markets for advanced wastewater treatment technology, with Japan, Brazil, Germany and India completing the list of top investment opportunities.

While the wastewater treatment projects identifed were distributed evenly between developing and developed countries, the bulk of the investment - $22.3 billion – will be in developed countries. The costs for such projects are four times higher in developed countries, according to the report.

But even though the costs in building and upgrading plants are significantly smaller in developing countries, they are still a barrier, noted report author and senior analyst Brent Giles in a statement.

“Solving the most pressing problems in wastewater treatment will require technologies that are not just effective, but also affordable to the rapidly growing market in the developing world,” he said.

Research manager Melvin Leong of advisory firm Frost & Sullivan’s Asia Pacific environment and building technologies division told Eco-Business that governments in Asia’s developing countries usually cite ‘lack of financial means’ as the reason for delaying the use of advanced water treatment technologies.

The use of such technologies may become more viable in this region if the technology companies are able to offer business models that defray the up-front costs, he said.

Such business models include design, build, own and operate (DBOO) and or design, build, operate and transfer (DBOT). Under those schemes, the technology provider pays for the plant and recoups the costs over time through its operation.

One company that has enjoyed success with this model is Singapore-listed Hyflux, which has been selling water treatment systems in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia since 1989. The firm now provides advanced membrane technology for desalination, water purification and wastewater treatment across Southeast Asia, China, India, the Middle East and North Africa.

Many of its projects in China are being developed through a joint venture with Japanese investor Mitsui & Co. The partnership will fund and manage an initial 22 water and wastewater treatment plants under the name of Galaxy NewSpring.

Hyflux had proposed a ‘build-own-transfer’ arrangement for a RMB 200 million wastewater treatment plant announced last year for Zunyi City in China’s Guizhou province. Under this model, a Hyflux subsidiary would design, develop and then manage the 150,000 m3 plant for 30 years. After that period, ownership would be transferred to the local water authority.

But government-driven funding is also on the rise - particularly in China, where planners are increasingly concerned about the lack of clean water. Government data released recently showed that 40 per cent of rivers were seriously polluted after 75 billion tonnes of sewage and waste water were discharged in 2010.

As a result, the government said recently in a report by Chinese wire agency Xinhua that it will commit 4 trillion yuan (USD$634.9 billion) to clean water projects over the next 10 years.

Elsewhere in Asia, water technology companies are finding countries receptive to research and development (R&D) for new wastewater treatments.

Frost & Sullivan’s Mr Leong said that Singapore, Japan and South Korea have been active in adopting new technologies, and many developing countries in the region have agencies or educational institutes undertaking R&D projects.

But turning pilot projects into commercially viable systems remains a challenge due to the high costs involved, he added.

Developing new technologies

Currently, the dominant wastewater technology used in municipal or city sewage treatment plants is traditional activated sludge, which involves introducing biological organisms to break down organic waste.

The purpose of the system is to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of the resulting water and sludge, or left-over solids, as much as possible before releasing them into water systems or disposing of them.

Advanced technologies, which include various forms of filtration and biological or chemical processes, were developed to not only improve on this cleaning function, but also to make use of the natural resources that wastewater contains, such as water, nutrients and energy-filled organic matter.

Much of the R&D taking place in the region is focused on ways to capture the resources within wastewater; and while such R&D projects are sporadic, it is not entirely true to say that it is still far off, said Mr Leong.

Singapore’s NEWater, which was originally developed using Hyflux technology, is an example of a regional R&D project that has been successfully commercialised. NEWater is water that has been recycled from wastewater using a process similar to desalination, and was developed to supplement Singapore’s fresh water sources.

Another R&D project in the works is one by environmental technology firm Siemens, which is creating a wastewater treatment process that is energy self-sufficient.

After initial trials, Siemens said it had found a way to convert the energy contained in municipal wastewater into methane that can be used for power generation.

Municipal wastewater treatment using conventional technologies can consume up to 3 per cent of all electricity production, but according to Siemens, the wastewater contains enough energy to produce 10 times that amount of power.

Siemens said at the time of the announcement it would set up a pilot plant in Singapore that would treat wastewater from about 2,000 residents using methane produced from the water to power the facility.

Such a technology might prove useful for an industry that Lux Research’s Brent Giles said was ‘crying out for radical solutions’.

“In theory, the industry could be a safe source of both net energy production and useful byproducts,” noted Mr Giles.

Governments and water utilities across the world will be investing some $28 billion this year to improve their existing wastewater treatment infrastructure, a new report by Lux Research has found.

The report published last week by the Boston-based independent research house estimated that water managers globally will spend aboout USD$27.8 billion for advanced wastewater treatment technologies in 2012.

That spend will provide an additional global capacity of 16.3 million cubic metres (m3) of wastewater per day. (you mean, additional capacity to treat wastwater? right now it sounds like they’re manufacturing extra wastewater)

The report noted that wastewater technologies most commonly used by cities today “gobble enormous amounts of energy, send megatons of toxic sludge to landfills and incinerators, and throw away valuable water that many communities could reuse”.

Using specialised filters and other techniques, advanced wastewater treatments can clean wastewater such that the water and other byproducts can by recycled, and in some cases used for energy production.

The investments into new technologies are aimed at taking advantage of these opportunities. More than half of the money – 55 per cent – will be spent on upgrading or replacing old treatment plants in urban areas, many of which are in developing countries.

Of the potential advanced wastewater projects identified across the globe by Lux Research, 15 per cent were new facilities, while the rest of the projects involved upgrading or expanding existing plants.

China and the United States are the largest markets for advanced wastewater treatment technology, with Japan, Brazil, Germany and India completing the list of top investment opportunities.

While the wastewater treatment projects identifed were distributed evenly between developing and developed countries, the bulk of the investment - $22.3 billion – will be in developed countries. The costs for such projects are four times higher in developed countries, according to the report.

But even though the costs in building and upgrading plants are significantly smaller in developing countries, they are still a barrier, noted report author and senior analyst Brent Giles in a statement.

“Solving the most pressing problems in wastewater treatment will require technologies that are not just effective, but also affordable to the rapidly growing market in the developing world,” he said.

Research manager Melvin Leong of advisory firm Frost & Sullivan’s Asia Pacific environment and building technologies division told Eco-Business that governments in Asia’s developing countries usually cite ‘lack of financial means’ as the reason for delaying the use of advanced water treatment technologies.

The use of such technologies may become more viable in this region if the technology companies are able to offer business models that defray the up-front costs, he said.

Such business models include design, build, own and operate (DBOO) and or design, build, operate and transfer (DBOT). Under those schemes, the technology provider pays for the plant and recoups the costs over time through its operation.

One company that has enjoyed success with this model is Singapore-listed Hyflux, which has been selling water treatment systems in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia since 1989. The firm now provides advanced membrane technology for desalination, water purification and wastewater treatment across Southeast Asia, China, India, the Middle East and North Africa.

Many of its projects in China are being developed through a joint venture with Japanese investor Mitsui & Co. The partnership will fund and manage an initial 22 water and wastewater treatment plants under the name of Galaxy NewSpring.

Hyflux had proposed a ‘build-own-transfer’ arrangement for a RMB 200 million wastewater treatment plant announced last year for Zunyi City in China’s Guizhou province. Under this model, a Hyflux subsidiary would design, develop and then manage the 150,000 m3 plant for 30 years. After that period, ownership would be transferred to the local water authority.

But government-driven funding is also on the rise - particularly in China, where government data showed that 40 per cent of rivers were seriously polluted after 75 billion tonnes of sewage and waste water were discharged in 2010. (this par needs rephrasing, you’re trying to say: government-driven funding is also on the rise, particularly in China, where its planners have realised it needs to invest in cleaning up its pollution, something like that - needs to be clearer)

As a result, the government said recently in a report by Chinese wire agency Xinhua that it will commit 4 trillion yuan (USD$634.9 billion) to clean water projects over the next 10 years.

Elsewhere in Asia, water technology companies are finding countries receptive to research and development (R&D) for new wastewater treatments.

Frost & Sullivan’s Mr Leong said that Singapore, Japan and South Korea have been active in adopting new technologies, and many developing countries in the region have agencies or educational institutes undertaking R&D projects.

But turning pilot projects into commercially viable systems remains a challenge due to the high costs involved, he added.

Developing new technologies

Currently, the dominant wastewater technology used in municipal or city sewage treatment plants is traditional activated sludge, which involves introducing biological organisms to break down organic waste.

The purpose of the system is to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of the resulting water and sludge, or left-over solids, as much as possible before releasing them into water systems or disposing of them.

Advanced technologies, which include various forms of filtration and biological or chemical processes, were developed to not only improve on this cleaning function, but also to make use of the natural resources that wastewater contains, such as water, nutrients and energy-filled organic matter.

Much of the R&D taking place in the region is focused on ways to capture the resources within wastewater; and while such R&D projects are sporadic, it is not entirely true to say that it is still far off, said Mr Leong.

Singapore’s NEWater, which was originally developed using Hyflux technology, is an example of a regional R&D project that has been successfully commercialised. NEWater is water that has been recycled from wastewater using a process similar to desalination, and was developed to supplement Singapore’s fresh water sources.

Another R&D project in the works is one by environmental technology firm Siemens, which is creating a wastewater treatment process that is energy self-sufficient.

According to Lux Research, wastewater treatment currently uses up to 3 per cent of all electricity production. (this sentence sticks out funny, like out of nowhere, can you weave it into the par below)

After initial trials, Siemens said it had found a way to convert the energy contained in municipal wastewater - which the firm said amounted to ten times the energy needed to treat it - into methane.(needs rephrasing to be clearer)

Siemens said at the time of the announcement it would set up a pilot plant in Singapore that would treat wastewater from about 2,000 residents using  methane produced from the water to power the facility.

Such a technology might prove useful for an industry that Lux Research’s Brent Giles said was ‘crying out for radical solutions’.

“In theory, the industry could be a safe source of both net energy production and useful byproducts,” said Mr Giles.

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