If heavy industries like oil and gas refining, manufacturing, petrochemical organisations, power plants, power stations, shipping companies do not treat their wastewater properly, the repercussions from the water pollution and contamination can be severe. Photo credit: Erik Forsberg
Flicking on the light at home, refuelling your car, signing for a package delivery. Neither of these actions are particularly likely to prompt many to wonder about the impact their actions may have on water pollution.
However, for petrochemical organisations, power plants, and shipping companies, this is one of their main concerns. Every one of these companies in their individual industries are heavily dependent on water for their day-to-day operations, and are at a high risk of bringing heavily penalties on themselves if they breach regulations regarding wastewater treatment.
Regulators have good reasons to keep a weather eye on heavy industries; they are one of the largest causes of freshwater contamination – and results of pollution have the potential to be nothing short of calamitous.
China’s “cancer villages” is one such example, where polluted industrial water is behind the massive spike far above the national average of cancer rates in some 429 villages near factories sprawled across the nation. Another example is the steel factory’s major toxic spill in Ha Tinh, Vietnam, which killed thousands of fish and ruined the local economy.
UN Water, a collaborative effort between several United Nations (UN) agencies, has forecasted that the global fossil fuel industry alone pollutes 15 to 18 billion cbm of freshwater resources per year, the equivalent of filling 7.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools. The issue is further aggravated by the agriculture, manufacturing, and shipping industries.
These problems are especially severe in developing countries. UN Water estimates that up to 70 per cent of untreated industrial wastewater is discharged into waterways in developing countries around the world. However, in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has put the figure at 80 per cent.
And the risk of industrial water pollution will likely rise alongside the rapid economic growth and population booms the region will continue to experience. Not only will be repercussions be cataclysmic for the citizens and communities in the region, but the firms involved also risk financial loss as well as tarnished reputations in the form of boycotts, fines, and public protests. However, companies can also profit and benefit from proper water management in numerous ways.
“Wastewater must be seen as a resource with potential financial returns,” ADB stated, adding that gains could be made through the production of an alternate water supply for cooling, industrial use, and irrigation, or even for energy generation and offering green employment opportunities.
Minimising risks through technology innovation
De Nora, an electrochemical technologies giant based in Italy, has spent almost a hundred years – a century – creating and developing solutions that help minimise the risks related to poor wastewater management.
The firm, which offers solutions based on electrochemistry for the agriculture, mining, and renewable energy storage industries, among others, established a subsidiary, De Nora Water Technologies, in 2015, to provide solutions for municipal and industrial wastewater treatment.
De Nora’s innovative industrial water treatment technologies include systems capable of producing sodium hypochlorite, a chemical for disinfecting effluent water, onsite; machines for piping chlorine gas into effluent waters for disinfection; as well as using electrolysis to treat water on offshore oil rigs and ships to make the water safe enough to release back into the environment.
De Nora, which has maintained a presence in Singapore since the 1980s, is now looking to assist Southeast Asia’s (SEA) booming industries, worth approximately US$20 billion, manage their wastewater pollution from their regional headquarters in Singapore, using the city-state to offer sales and technical services to clients all over the APAC region.
Sales director for disinfection in the APAC region and China, Vincenzo Palma, told Future Ready Singapore in an interview, “We see that Singapore can be a hub for expanding our technology into the Southeast Asian market.”
Water treatment in Asia
Even as De Nora provides Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, with innovative water treatment technologies, they also serve an industrial clientele consisting of environmental solutions companies, marine and offshore engineering firms, as well as power plants in Singapore and the surrounding region.
While complying with wastewater treatment regulations is one of the main driving factors behind De Nora’s engagement with these companies, Palma added, “We also wee some companies using our technology to exceed regulatory requirements, and demonstrate that they are environmentally responsible.”
Now, the company’s ambition is to rapidly expand throughout the region, a vision they shared at the 2016 Singapore International Water Week (SIWW). Global chief marketing and business development officer at De Nora, Luca Buonerba, released a statement there, saying, “We see enormous potential for our Singapore operation, which dates back to the 1980s, and our focus is now on improving the water and wastewater quality of the Southeast Asia region.”
Palma shared with Future Ready Singapore that the markets on top of the list for De Nora’s expansion are Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, and Indonesia and Malaysia are likewise prioritised with the aim of securing more clients there.
As these countries in SEA continue to develop and concentrate more on the need to have better wastewater management, Palma is looking at a promising spike in demand for water treatment solutions in the region.
According to Palma, while the high levels of water contamination in Asia’s waterways indicate that many companies have not yet looked to treating their effluent, destroying the ecosystems they discharge their industrial water into, companies must soon come to the understanding that if it continues, their operations will not remain unaffected.
“For example, if you run an agricultural business and do not keep your surrounding waterways clean, the quality of your own crops will be affected,” Palma explained.
A hub for water treatment in Asia
Singapore has been a vital factor in De Nora’s regional success – annual growth rate in the APAC region has stood at ten per cent for the last half decade – and Palma expects the growth to remain rapid and stable as the company explores and enters new markets.
Palma explained that while the research and development (R&D) of De Nora’s core technologies took place in its headquarters in Italy, they would be unable to serve or reach out to regional clients without its regional headquarters in Singapore.
This is because the technologies need to be customised for the specific needs of each client, and De Nora’s office in Singapore aided the organisation in working closely with its clients to do exactly that. Maintaining a presence in Singapore has enabled the company to make site visits to nations in the region, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as pinpoint methods in which to provide De Nora Technologies in the most cost-effective way possible.
“We see the industry in Asia grow aggressively, which has led to an increased demand for advanced technologies, but at minimal cost,” Palma said to Future Ready Singapore. “Being in Singapore allows us to develop a strong understanding of the operating environment and cultures in Asia’s various markets.”
Additionally, the water technology sector receives strong backing from Singapore, benefiting the company. “Water resources are so precious in this country, and there is a lot of motivation to conserve water,” Palma shared.
Singapore’s stance has resulted in an industrial ecosystem made up of more than 20 water research institutes, multiple water companies, world-class events like the SIWW, and a S$200 million (US$144.4 million) boost for R&D in the water sector, Palma added.
De Nora has tapped into this in order to pursue industry collaborations with consultants and contractors in order to create, design, and offer solutions specially customised for the region.
Singapore’s strong backing and concentration on their thriving water treatment ecosystem and technologies has also produced a talent pool of high quality, according to Palma.
“The level of preparation of every engineer we have is exceptional. Their skills are essential for building the complex, customised solutions that De Nora delivers to every client,” Palma told Future Ready Singapore. “And it will continue to be like that. It is the Singapore way.”
Sources: Eco-Business, Future Ready Singapore