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How advances in digital technology are unlocking water’s circular potential

Written by Ecolab, in collaboration with The Circulars

November 30, 2016

Water, at its essence, is powerful and ever moving. It is essential to the production and delivery of virtually every good and service. It is the lifeblood of communities and economies. From agriculture to manufacturing, transportation to power generation, water enables progress and propels us forward.

Yet despite its innately cyclical nature, water is not infinite. Our most important shared resource is actually incredibly finite. And the way we use – and abuse – water today is depleting available supplies of freshwater at an unprecedented rate. By 2030, the world will need 40 percent more water, but that is a global average. In many of the fastest-developing regions, where an estimated three billion people will join the global consumer class over the next two decades, the gap will be larger and is being felt right now.

We need to change our relationship with water to ensure that communities and businesses can thrive today and tomorrow, and the circular economy must be part of the solution. Water can no longer be considered an inexpensive, “use and dispose” commodity but should be valued as a reusable asset and growth enabler. Yet today, less than three percent of wastewater is recycled. In the United States, industry reuses far less than ten percent of the fresh water used for industrial processes. The identification of waste in terms of resources, capacity, lifecycle and embedded value that is the building block of the circular economy, must also be fully applied to water cycles.

It is quite possible there is no resource with more circular potential than water. When we maximize the potential of water by recycling, reusing and repurposing it, the possibilities for its use are endless.

The concept and practice of reusing and repurposing water is not new. Broad adoption and activation of circular water management, however, is new. To bring these principles to scale, we need to not only retrofit circularity into existing processes, but begin to design ‘circularity’ into solutions and processes right from the start.

The good news is solutions do exist to enable more circular use of water. Advances in technology and digital capabilities have enabled more effective management of systems and more detailed monitoring of water cycles that result in more efficient processes. From solutions that allow grey water in a hotel to be reused for cooling, to systems that enable treated wastewater from one plant to be used as process water in an adjacent facility, to precise monitoring capabilities that ensure efficient treatment to make water reusable, there are more and more options to adopt and apply circular principles to water use.

Every year, Ecolab helps our customers manage more than one trillion gallons of water with solutions across industries that minimize, maximize and optimize water use throughout operations. In 2015 alone, Ecolab solutions helped conserve more than 142 billion gallons of water. A core technology is 3D TRASAR™, which combines chemistry, remote services and sophisticated monitoring and control and helps customers reduce, reuse and recycle water throughout entire operations. For example, the Tang Plaza and Marriott Hotel in Singapore reduced its water use by 38 percent in one year by implementing 3D TRASAR™ Technology for Solid Cooling Water System.

Other Ecolab technologies also reduce water use in water-intensive industries. Carustar, a California paperboard manufacturer, replaced its reclaimed water source with process water using Nalco Water PARETO® Mixing Technology, saving more than 82 million gallons of water since 2012. (You can read more about these and other examples in Ecolab’s 2015 Corporate Sustainability Report.)

Greater adoption of connected technology and the ability to collect and analyze data about water use more broadly will accelerate companies’ ability to advance circular water practices. Using data captured by sensor technology, Ecolab can help optimize individual systems within customer facilities. Today, the company is aggregating the data it is collecting using Microsoft cloud technology to enable more comprehensive monitoring of multiple systems across multiple facilities. In the near future, Ecolab will be able to more efficiently aggregate and analyze data from across many systems to better anticipate disruptions, model scenarios and manage water use (and, in turn, energy use) across an enterprise. It is this type of insight-driven process improvements that will help accelerate the circularity of water by industry.

Saving water through conservation and reuse does not always necessarily equate to significant cost savings, given how underpriced water is in many locations, even where it is very scarce. Calculating and internalizing a water price that more appropriately reflects supply and demand dynamics and operational impact can help make the business case to change the way water is managed. Publicly available tools like the Water Risk Monetizer (www.waterriskmonetizer.com), which provides a risk-adjusted water price, can help with this type of assessment.

By adopting circular economy principles, we have the opportunity to shift the unsustainable linear traffic of water to a system that is an endless, profitable and sustainable loop. This transformation will be enabled, in part, by the proliferation of increasingly digital and connected technologies. Companies that harness data-driven, actionable and predictive insights to engage in the circular economy will ensure their success in an increasingly water-scarce world.

As part of its commitment to the circular economy, Ecolab is a main sponsor of The Circulars, the world’s premier circular economy award program run in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Forum of Young Global Leaders. The awards will take place in January 2017, during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

About Ecolab
A trusted partner at more than one million customer locations, Ecolab (ECL) is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services that protect people and vital resources. With 2015 sales of $13.5 billion and 47,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions and on-site service to promote safe food, maintain clean environments, optimize water and energy use and improve operational efficiencies for customers in the food, healthcare, energy, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world. For more Ecolab news and information, visit www.ecolab.com.

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