Getting more from groundwater

Sep 18, 2013
Getting more from groundwater
Credit: Shutterstock

By 2050, around 4 billion people will be living in countries with water shortages. Innovative techniques are urgently needed to squeeze every drop from the resources available, and a team of European scientists believes it has some of the answers.

In many European countries, drinking water comes from - this is the case for more than 80 percent of in Denmark, Austria, Iceland, Italy and Switzerland. Traditionally, the water is pumped up and then filtered - just as coffee is filtered - to remove iron, manganese and .

The problem arises when these filters need cleaning. The process involves backwashing with water, during which up to 10 percent of potential drinking water can be lost - it is simply discharged afterwards as , explains André Reigersman, coordinator of the EU-funded project IWEC ('Increased water efficiency with ceramic ') and chief executive of Dutch SME RWB Water Services.

IWEC aims to introduce ceramic membranes into the process, and hopes to show their feasibility at a demonstration plant in the Netherlands.

"Using membranes could save up to two square kilometres of water every year, which is equal to the combined consumption of drinking water in the Netherlands and Sweden," says Reigersman.

Alternatives to membrane types have been investigated. But the plastic versions, which are either combined with pressure or suction, do not necessarily remove all , are prone to breakage and are relatively expensive to manufacture.

Once RWB Water Services had identified ceramic membranes as the way forward, they began testing them in 2009. The IWEC project, which also brings together a Dutch drinking water and Polish manufacturing company, began three years later.

Manufacturing the membranes in Poland helps keep costs down. "We need to be innovative, and our solution will not be innovative if it more expensive, " explains Reigersman.

In addition to cost and health benefits, ceramic membranes have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years (compared to an average of 5 years for conventional filters). And once their filtering days are over, the membranes can also be recycled, for example in the manufacture of tiles. The team will look more in depth at the re-use of these membranes - a key element of IWEC - before the end of the project.

It has been market barriers rather than technological challenges that have so far been the biggest stumbling block. In the Netherlands, a groundwater tax was in place - although this has now been lifted. EU countries have also not yet implemented common legislation on water re-use and testing methods.

But the IWEC team remains very optimistic. "The start has been more difficult than expected, but we seem to have had some success in removing some market barriers," says Reigersman.

Assuming the demonstration is successful, Reigersman hopes to make the standard water re-use solution in the Netherlands, and will then turn his attention elsewhere.

Southern Europe is off the agenda as water loss during distribution is already very high - in some cases between 10 and 30 percent. "It makes no sense to invest in something to to save 5 percent when losses are so high elsewhere," explains Reigersman.

But other countries are certain to hear about IWEC's work soon. The team is already looking at the German market, and has made a market inventory covering several countries. The plan is to start in those countries where is still expensive, such as Denmark.

The IWEC project is receiving over EUR 847 000 in funding from the EU through its eco-innovation programme. It is due to end in June 2015.

Explore further: Specialized species critical for reefs

More information: IWEC www.iwec-water-reuse.eu/index.htm

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

More crops per drop

Jul 12, 2013

A solution is much needed to fight droughts and preserve crops. Researchers have now developed a device capable of checking the humidity in the soil, and releasing irrigation water as needed – just enough without wasting ...

Closing the water cycle

Sep 05, 2013

Combining advanced wastewater treatment technologies may enable industrial companies to use water in a more sustainable way. But the approaches are mainly suited for high-income countries.

Recommended for you

Landmark fracking study finds no water pollution

1 hour ago

The final report from a landmark federal study on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has found no evidence that chemicals or brine water from the gas drilling process moved upward to contaminate drinking water at one site ...

Politics divide coastal residents' views of environment

2 hours ago

From the salmon-rich waters of Southeast Alaska to the white sand beaches of Florida's Gulf Coast to Downeast Maine's lobster, lumber and tourist towns, coastal residents around the U.S. share a common characteristic: ...

Earthworms as nature's free fertilizer

6 hours ago

Earthworm presence in the soil increases crop yield, shows a new study that was published this week in Scientific Reports. "This is not unexpected," says Jan Willem van Groenigen, associate professor in the ...

A success in managed pressure drilling

6 hours ago

As one of BP's top 40 wells globally (and the only UK well qualifying for that category in 2012), the successful delivery of the Harding field's 'Producer North East 2a' well (referred to as PNE2a) was crucial to the business. ...

Passion for the natural world clears the waters

6 hours ago

A toxic legacy has hung over the picturesque northern NSW coastal hamlet of Urunga for almost 40 years. Although now obscured by dense vegetation, the forest of dead melaleuca trees at the edge of a wetland ...

User comments : 0