Lindsay Pack

Freshwater isn’t as prevalent as it used to be. Population growth, increasing industrialization, and climate change are straining water supplies at a rapid pace, and some of the worst drought conditions the United States has ever seen are costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses. The economic and environmental implications of diminishing freshwater availability have encouraged industry—one of the top freshwater withdrawers in the country—to reexamine their processes for potential improvements.

Enter demineralization. Also known as “desalination,” this water treatment process removes dissolved solids, such as salts and minerals, from water so it can be used. In doing so, demineralization allows for more diverse sources of water to be used in industrial settings, freeing up freshwater supplies for public consumption, agriculture, and other uses.

So, U.S. industries adopt demineralization across the board and we all live happily ever after?  Not quite. Putting together a successful demineralization project is complex, requiring a range of stakeholders with different priorities and objectives to work together. Collectively, these technology providers, industrial facility owners and operators, system engineers, and chemical specialists, among others, must navigate regulatory, technological, economic, and communication barriers, all while ensuring that the plant does not experience a decrease in productivity.

Despite the promise of demineralization technologies, these project complexities have prevented widespread implementation. That’s why the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) opted to host the Industrial Demineralization: Best Practices and Future Directions Workshop, which brought together industrial demineralization and water reuse experts from industry, government, and academia. My colleague Ross Brindle and I facilitated a series of highly interactive discussions through which participants defined the key characteristics of successful industrial demineralization projects, highlighted barriers to such projects, and identified actions needed to increase the use of demineralized water in industrial processes.

Rising to the top of the action ideas was the development of a roadmap for accessing detailed water analysis information that is already available. Obtaining water data for a specific facility location is a time-consuming task that, while critical for developing an effective system, is not practical within the time constraints that technology suppliers face. Shortening the path to obtaining accurate, reliable water data is essential to setting expectations for all stakeholders from the beginning of a project.

Workshop participants also liked the idea of developing a best practices guideline document that identifies and describes available demineralization technologies in detail. Many industrial facility owners and operators and system engineers do not have enough information about the range of available demineralization technologies, which makes it difficult to select which technology or combination of technologies is the best fit for their specific needs. Having access to a document that provides comparable, detailed descriptions of each available demineralization technology would enable users and system engineers to more easily choose a solution and supplier that can best meet their needs.

Going forward, ASME plans to work with industry to use the results outlined in the workshop report as a starting point for future initiatives. With improved coordination, these efforts can help conserve the nation’s supply of freshwater without sacrificing the performance of its most integral industries. I’ll drink some freshwater to that.