ProChem recently completed another project that embodies our mission: to advance our customers’ total water management strategies by providing innovative solutions supported by a comprehensive set of services. This project required the coordination of chemistry, equipment, technology, and customer-centered collaboration—all the disciplines on which ProChem was founded and continues to operate.
Prior to finding ProChem, this wood products manufacturer had been working with their local publicly owned treatment works (POTW) to treat their water. They needed to lighten their heavily pigmented water so that it could be penetrated with a UV light in order to disinfect it before discharging to the POTW.
The company initially hired an engineering firm to find a solution, but because there are so many nuances in waste water treatment that require expertise in multiple disciplines, they were unable to provide one. They would have needed to understand the wastewater, the chemistry, and the unique needs of the customer—a specialized set of services they turned to us to provide.
The plant’s wastewater comes from their wet electrostatic precipitator (WESP) system, which uses water and electricity to scrub fine wood particles from gases before they can be released into the atmosphere according to EPA regulation. Those fine wood particles end up in the wastewater that the ProChem system needed to treat. Our starting point was our CleanWESP water treatment program, designed by ProChem chemists specifically for the wood products industry to protect valuable equipment such as the WESP. Even with this solution in place, this customer had significant problems that would require some creative problem-solving. Fortunately, our team lives by the premise, “The bigger the problem, the bigger the solution.”
While ProChem’s experts were researching the problem, the POTW continued to tighten their restrictions. As a result, the scope of the project pivoted from merely lightening the pigmented water for discharge to treating and reusing 10% of their wastewater inside the plant. This is what we refer to as a “kidney loop”—continuously treating part of the stream, rather than the whole thing, to keep the whole stream cleaner.
ProChem’s custom-tailored solution to treating wastewater for discharge while also implementing water reuse required a carefully orchestrated combination of chemistry, equipment, and technology.
When dealing with wood wastewater, there’s only one proven chemical treatment that works. A coagulant turns dissolved contaminants into solid particles, while the polymer holds those together to make bigger particles, which typically sink to the bottom. But in cases such as this, the wood particles float. The chemistry team at ProChem had to find a combination of polyamene, pH, coagulant, and polymer that had good separation to allow the solids to float in as compact a layer as possible and also produce water as clear as possible. At the plant, the particles on the top get skimmed off and go to the belt press, where the water in the sludge is removed and the sludge is disposed of.
The system that ProChem designed includes pretreatment, sand filtration, reverse osmosis membrane filtration, and UV lights. The system is based around a specialized chemical treatment program coupled with I-PRO™ and B-PRO™ membrane technologies. Designed to treat up to 60,000 gallons per day at 200 gallons per minute (gpm), the current system handles 125 gpm of reuse water and is integrated with existing clarifiers, dissolved air flotation (DAF), and a belt press.
ProChem fabricators constructed three Conex containers at our facility in Elliston, Virginia, and outfitted them with amenities for 24-hour, year-round operation—lights, heaters, fans, and ventilation.
One container houses three 62-ft3 sand filters operating in parallel with one in service at a time. The sand filters are equipped with automatic switching and backwashing of exhausted columns using permeate water.
Our membrane technology for this project included both I-PRO and B-PRO Conex containers. Both containers consist of an automatic prefilter switching to reduce down time, additional chemistry to prevent scaling and biological growth, and an automatic phase change based on conductivity—keeping discharge within operating parameters. The I-PRO container consists of 10 membrane housings, each with six membranes, while the B-PRO container has eight membrane housings with four membranes in each.
As always, we incorporated the most up-to-date technology that was appropriate for the customer’s particular needs:
The initial walkthrough at the customer’s plant revealed tight spaces that would require precise piping work to create the most efficient and sustainable system. For a clean piping sequence, our Project Superintendent made sure there were no “jumping pipes,” meaning no pipes overlap. Overlapping diagonal pipes make the system less serviceable. For example, simply fixing a valve could require cutting pipes. Because of our close attention to detail, that wouldn’t be necessary for this project.
This system is automated and continuously transmits data to ProChem’s AutoRun™ software. To accomplish this, our Controls & Instrumentation Engineer used the P&ID to determine how many PLC (programmable logic controller) inputs and outputs would be needed. The PLC is at the center of the control system, continuously monitoring the state of input devices and making decisions based upon a custom program to control the state of output devices as much as 100 times a second.
Our Controls & Instrumentation Engineer writes custom programs using algorithms to monitor flow, dose chemicals, adjust pH, control agitator speed, and much more. Any signal that can be measured can also be manipulated.
ProChem upgraded the customer’s wastewater treatment system to provide operators the means to enhance their process for meeting the plant’s water quality needs. As part of the upgrades, ProChem modernized the control system utilizing a Remote I/O solution. This technology reduced wiring costs while improving operational readiness and reliability.
The Remote I/O system provides a reliable method to transfer monitoring and control signals to and from the PLC-based control system. In this configuration, two Remote I/O stations are situated along the Ethernet network in different areas of the system. Each station contains five to 10 I/O modules. For monitoring applications, the system collects signals from analog transmitters or discrete devices. It concentrates the signals and, when polled by the network master, sends them over the Ethernet network directly to the main PLC control panel. For control, process commands from the host are transmitted over the network and converted to analog or discrete form to control valves, pumps, motors, and other types of proportional and on/off control elements.
This wood products manufacturer has a large and complex treatment system with multiple moving parts. The challenge for us was to make all those parts work together in balance. It was the most complicated control system our engineers have ever designed.
As always, we maintain an ongoing relationship with this customer and continue supporting them both remotely and on-site. In fact, one of our Environmental Technicians is responsible for the day-to-day optimization of the system.
ProChem’s team took a customer who was discouraged and gave them the solution they needed to protect their costly (about $1 million/year) WESP equipment by treating and reusing their wastewater. The remaining wastewater is discharged to the POTW, guaranteed to maintain compliance.
Looking for a solution to your industrial water problems? Contact our experts today!
Fresh from Hurricane Harvey, Houston has suffered through the consequences of their inadequate flood mitigation strategies. The flood conditions could be even worse this season—starting June 1—and preparations made by local and state governments will be under the microscope. Will they set aside the money for mitigation efforts, or will they roll the dice?
The social, economic, environmental, and structural effects of flooding vary depending on the location and severity of the flooding. Moreover, flood mitigation strategies themselves can expose the vulnerabilities of communities. Implementing successful mitigation requires cross-district and state policy regulations—storm water, for example, doesn’t obey municipal lines. To implement flood abatement and prevent catastrophic events from potentially raining down on their citizens, cities and townships should decide how to allocate funding: education, city infrastructure, or public services. Government officials and local professionals must draw upon current flooding data in their geographical range to justify appropriate funds and move forward with plans that can preserve not only economic dignity but also the lives of those at risk.
Educating citizens about how to prepare and having emergency plans for every department are crucial in developing a more resilient city. Local communities are responsible for mitigating repetitive flood problems by implementing educational measures, including information about emergency routes and actions to take in the case of a flood event—such as not crossing a flooded area, not re-entering homes prematurely, or not drinking tap water that could potentially be contaminated. Education, however, is only a small part of this equation and should act as a catalyst that spurs citizens to push their government to allocate the funding to support the physical components of the mitigation strategy.
Both built and natural infrastructure affect the extent of flooding consequences from storm surges. Natural structures include channels and natural floodplains, while built structures are comprised of damns, levees, and flood walls. Investment in city resilience planning reduces the flood time within a city, decreases property loss, and lessens the mortality risk while also keeping a city economically afloat during a tragedy—because businesses remain open.
Strong organizational commitment to flood protection is not a one-time deal. It requires long-term adjustment of policy. Analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and the changing conditions of the built environment inform smart policy. These factors should be adaptive instruments used to respond to various ecological and human-made systems.
Within the past 20 years, we have begun to see dramatic shifts in rain patterns, which lead to extreme weather events. The swings in air and ocean currents are changing global weather patterns at a high rate (some research on that can be found here). Every community has flooding risk, but deviations show increased likelihood of flooding in places with little to no experience with extreme flooding, as Houston discovered last summer.
As our weather shifts, our priorities should follow suit. Commitment to preemptive flood abatement measures needs to be demonstrated in community budgets. Among the noise surrounding climate change and weather shifts are many helpful and potentially life-saving pieces of wisdom. At the very least, we ought to be concerned about the economic benefits of taking preemptive action—a precautionary strike may be the only way to protect ourselves and our communities from the potentially ruinous effects of storm water.
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Clean air, safe drinking water, and sufficient food supply are all increasingly at risk from extreme weather events as we advance into the 21st century. In the absence of government mandates, it’s incumbent upon U.S. industry to take precautionary actions like those outlined in the Paris Climate Agreements. Doing so will prevent the pervasive, irreversible consequences of climate change by allowing for adaptive management to changes over several decades. By implementing cost-effective measures, environmental and health degradation can be mitigated.
After a long struggle to contain a global rise in temperature, the largest international climate conference in history, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), made commitments aimed to keep global warming below 2°C by developing The Paris Agreement. The multilateral agreement between 197 parties who came together to create a sustainable and dynamic action agenda seeks to prevent the escalation of climate change, but what about the impacts of deviations in weather patterns already in effect?
A common misconception regarding climate change is that it simply means the earth will get warmer, but the true definition reveals that the change is in the distribution of weather patterns around the world. Quite simply, wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier. Climatologists are already seeing this pattern and predict more extreme weather events, sea levels rising, and warming oceans in the coming decades.
Policymakers typically structure environmental policies to stop worsening climate change, but the burden on water resources has already started being intensified. For every fraction of a degree the atmosphere is warmed, the hydrologic cycle is altering the intensity of precipitation—impacting both water quality and the safety of water sources.
We may soon see impacts on drinking water and ecosystems that will lead to ripple effects on our food supply as water quality and supply are jeopardized by climate change. Water quality is already diminishing due to increased sediment from heavy downpours. In some areas where competition for water is increasing, quantity is decreasing as short- and long-term droughts are gradually intensifying.
Skeptics often cite lack of scientific certainty as a reason for postponing action on climate change, but accumulating evidence is adding weight to the “better safe than sorry” argument. Early warnings of climate change ring the alarm bell for doing the bare minimum—just in case—as the economic consequences of doing nothing continue to mount. The U.S. weaning itself off fossil fuels is a clear first step in abating those consequences. The 97% chance that climate change is caused by human involvement is evidence decisions about energy profiles need to look differently from this point forward.
Our country has been one step behind Europe in creating energy efficient products and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through policy techniques such as carbon pricing and “cap and trade” agreements. If corporations were to get in front of potentially strict cap and trade agreements before they’re on the table, for example, they would be able to act gradually and economically, rather than abruptly with potential penalties for violations.
The removal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate deal came after President Trump talked skeptically of climate change—calling it a “con job” and a “myth.” But what are the costs of waiting for a permanent display of its authenticity? The U.S. is not tied to any international climate legislation since the withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, a decision that came with strong criticism both internationally and domestically and resulted in estrangement from our closest allies. States have taken up the Paris targets on their individual agendas, but not taking the opportunity to mitigate climate change at a national level could cost America.
Critics of climate change attest that legislation will negatively affect our strongest economic sources based in fossil fuels, but not leaning into the precautionary principle could lead to costs that could be mitigated in the inevitable fight for water resources.
The U.S. water infrastructure isn’t making the grade—in fact, it’s dangerously close to flunking. Best case scenario, leaky pipes continue to waste trillions of gallons of water every year. Worst case scenario, crises like the one in Flint, Michigan, are repeated all over the country.
The infrastructure for the pipes that carry drinking water across the country has a lifespan of less than 100 years, but those pipes were laid in the mid-20th century, without being adequately maintained. Currently, the money being used to maintain our water infrastructure accounts for only one-third of the water being consumed in the U.S. One-trillion dollars will be needed to maintain, repair, and expand the existing infrastructure over the next 25 years to ensure safe drinking water. Nearly half of this investment would go into the expansion of new pipes, but the majority would go toward replacement in those areas that do not have clean drinking water.
The most glaring example of a possible future for America has already been shown in Flint, Michigan. This significant structural water crisis developed into a health crisis in 2014 when lead from the pipes ended up in the drinking water. Later, disinfection byproducts and bacteria were also found in the water. Six months after E. coli and total coliform bacteria were confirmed in Flint’s water supply, they were found in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act when carcinogens were discovered. A year later, a state of emergency was declared, followed by a state probe, leading to involuntary manslaughter charges for five officials.
The crisis started after Flint, Michigan hired a new, temporary city manager who decided the way to buffer the water crisis was to transition their water source from Detroit, whose water came from Lake Huron, to the Flint River. The water in the Flint River water was extremely corrosive and caused the lead and heavy metals from the pipes to be dragged along with the water. Health officials do not believe that the children exposed to this water will be able to remove the lead from their systems during their lifetimes, which could cause neurological and other health effects. Following Flint, other cities in Michigan and Ohio, as well as many cities east of the Mississippi river, have been found to also have elevated lead levels.
ASCE Committee on America’s Infrastructure, a group of civil engineers across the country who assess data and reports from technical and industrial sectors, have recently developed modern water infrastructure criteria based on the following: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience, and innovation. They then develop an infrastructure report card grading scale: A-Exceptional, fit for the future; B-Good, adequate for now; C-Mediocre, requires attention; D-Poor, at risk; F-Failing/Critical, unfit for purpose. Based on this scale, the U.S. water infrastructure was handed a “D.”
Recent estimates have revealed approximately 2.1 trillion gallons of water are lost per year because of leaks in infrastructure. Although the congressional and presidential campaigns in 2016 saw a lot of promises to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, when the opportunity to address the issue in front of Congress arose, reforms did not pass. Water infrastructure is becoming increasingly fragile, in parallel with the state of the nation’s water quality. The cost to fix this issue is significant, and there is a weighty funding gap that will grow increasingly expensive, as the rate is 3-10 times more to fix a pipe after it fails.
This issue has been, quite literally, out of sight. Water is something that we assume will always be there because we haven’t experienced anything else. Every day we waste water, but when will this issue be resolved? Can the United States prevent a “day zero” crisis?
Most Americans take it for granted that clean water will flow every time they turn on the tap. But imagine turning on the news and hearing that your community was running out of water.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Cape Town, South Africa, where an entire modern city has been on the verge of running dry. Only recently has the situation been stabilized, and only after slashing individual water usage by half.
How could this disaster have been prevented? South Africa has an extensive network of wastewater treatment plants, but 60% of these facilities do not meet the discharge requirements (limits on pollutant parameters, protection of sewerage systems, requirements to control sludge discharge, etc.) and 44% have opted for less suitable technologies when considering their water capacity and effluent quality requirements.
For years, the water supply in South Africa has been shrinking while the water quality has been deteriorating as the demand for water grows in cities, which leads to a dependence on water sources farther afield. This increased need for water is a result of both population growth and increased industrial demand.
Africa has about 9% of the world’s freshwater resources, but their water management policies and implementations have led to the continent having less fresh water per person than any country in the Middle East or Asia (areas usually thought of as water-scarce). Under those circumstances, water is too valuable to be used just once. And although Africa is the most glaring example of unsustainable water practices, the problem isn’t only there—for example, 54% of India’s groundwater wells are decreasing, while 60% of their aquifers are in critical condition.
This is a growing global concern. Access to clean water can be a stabilizing as well as a destabilizing force. By learning from these examples and changing preconceived notions of wastewater treatment, responsible policies combined with wastewater treatment and reuse technology can assist in making it a stabilizing force.