Energy Management

Water management: When there's not a drop to spare

In this Big Picture Interview, Julie Lindley explores the true risk-adjusted cost of water.

By Thomas Wilk, editor-in-chief

As marketing director for Total Water Management and Commercial Digital Solutions in Ecolab’s Nalco Water business, Julie Lindley is responsible for the marketing strategy for Nalco Water’s Total Water Management approach, which promises guaranteed performance through a unique combination of chemical services, managed operations, water technology, and digital platforms. Lindley spoke recently with Plant Services chief editor Thomas Wilk on how smart water solutions are changing the face of facilities management.

PS: Could you describe what you do to help plant teams understand things about water that they don’t normally take into account?

JL: The first thing that we do with industrial companies is we try to build awareness. We do that via a free publicly available tool called the Water Risk Monetizer. It’s a tool where you upload information about your facilities, such as, How much water do you use? What’s your water source? How much do you pay for the water? How much do you pay to discharge the water? There’s more data added behind the scenes about watersheds, quality of water around the world, potentially how many other people are pulling from those same water sources. An algorithm puts it all in context and the output of the tool is the true risk-adjusted cost of water.

When we talk about water scarcity, people always think about it as, “Do I have water available to me? Am I in a desert or an arid area?” That’s where water scarcity is an obvious challenge. But there’s another component to water scarcity where you might be surrounded by water, but if the quality of that water is very poor, you still have to do a lot to be able to use it. Even when surrounded by water you could still be in a water scarce situation and would have to make huge investments to use that water.

PS: Are plant teams surprised by thinking of water in this way?

JL: I would say they’re definitely surprised. Most companies still really don’t think about water as a strategic asset. Even as an operational cost, it’s usually dwarfed by raw material cost and electric cost or energy cost. Water is typically one of those things that people don’t think about until it’s a problem, and then it’s a really big problem, and it’s all they think about.

PS: Tell me about the project you worked on in San Antonio.

JL: In San Antonio, we worked very closely with Microsoft, a customer that has aggressive water reduction goals. They’re very interested in making sure that their operations are not interrupted, and making sure that they don’t have downtime is their top priority. We were actually working with their data center operations team and their sustainability office, trying to come up with a comprehensive water strategy. First, we used the Water Risk Monetizer on a number of their data centers. Then we took water from an impaired source (water that was the output of a municipal waste water plant in San Antonio); and we ran their towers at a higher number of cycles, which means that we increased the number of times that we recycled that water through that asset. When you do that, you’re starting to increase contaminants and introduce more variability in the systems, and you need to treat that water differently.

There’s a technology that we have called 3D TRASAR™ technology that has a sensor that reads the water quality and provides information from what’s in that water to our controller, and it adjusts the chemistry that we’re providing to meet the needs of the water just-in-time. Then that data goes to both our connected digital enVision platform so our customers can see how that tower is operating and the variability that we’re eliminating there; and the data also goes to a place that we call the System Assurance Center, where a team of engineers remotely monitors all of our 3D TRASAR units to ensure immediate problem identification and resolution.

We were able to replace 60 million gallons of potable water that we were taking from a freshwater source with gray water from a municipal output; and we were able to eliminate the cost of that water, because Microsoft was paying the municipality for that. We’ve been doing that now for several months, and we’re starting to take a similar playbook to some of their other operations.