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05/06/2011

The Clear Benefits of Pure Water

In Ireland water is often taken for granted. However, pharmaceutical, biotech, research and chemical laboratories; university, hospital and clinical facilities; and electronics, food and beverage manufactures could not operate without a continuous source of pure water.

Industry's reliance on pure water cannot be understated. The financial cost incurred by an interruption to operations through the loss of water supply can run into millions of euro in a matter of hours, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.

But it is not only about continuity of production for manufacturers - pure water ensures that our healthcare establishments can provide the highest possible patient care through the services provided by central sterile services departments. Pure water prevents cross contamination of surgical instruments and the spread of harmful infections and ultimately saves lives.

With the arrival of carbon taxes and consumer groups demanding the highest ethical standards, there has never been more pressure on industry to account for its impact on the environment. Carbon footprint (and indeed, water footprint) account for vital calculations impacting the balance sheets of companies throughout the world. The purified water industry has responded with an array of new and innovative technologies that are being adopted across all industries.

Traditional purification methods - although highly effective - have been advanced by new processes that not only produce high quality results in shorter timescales, but also enable the end user to dramatically reduce the production of negative by-products. For example, organic scavengers and multimedia have been superseded by ultra filtration (UF) as a means of pre-treating water. UF is essentially a pressure-driven barrier to suspended solids, bacteria, viruses, endotoxins and other pathogens to produce water with very high purity. It has driven down both costs and the amount of waste produced.

Reverse osmosis is a membrane separation process used to purify water. Pressure is applied to force water through a semi-permeable membrane, while leaving impurities on the feed side of the membrane. The membrane allows the solvent (water) to pass through but retains a large percentage of impurities such as dissolved inorganic and organic material, bacteria and pyrogens.

The water that passes through the membrane (permeate) has significantly less contamination than the feed water while the reject stream, which remains upstream of the membranes, has much higher concentration. Since the pressure differential between the permeate and the feed water streams is the driving force for reverse osmosis, the permeate emerges from the system at a very low pressure, while the reject pressure is usually only slightly lower than the feed pressure.

Water purification by means of a deionisation system requires two resins - a cation resin to remove cationic impurities such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium; and an anion resin to remove anions, which are mainly bicarbonates, chlorides, sulphates and nitrates.

Another advancement that has become a mainstay of the pure water industry is electrodeionisation, also referred to as continuous electro deionization or CEDI, a chemical-free technology that significantly reduces ions in water. It utilises ion exchange resins that are continuously regenerated by an electrical current. EDI modules (also called'stacks') consist of cell pairs with each pair containing an anode at one end and a cathode at the other.All of this translates into a significant reduction of acids and caustics and in turn a reduced volume of discharge generated.

Key benefits of CEDI include:

  • No chemicals are required for regeneration - unlike traditional deionizationsystems; CEDI units do not need acid or caustic chemicals for regeneration. This means safe operation and no hazardous waste created.
  • Consistent ultra pure water - due to continuous electrical regenerating the resin never gets exhausted so the product quality remains consistent.
  • Low operational costs - the CEDI unit can operate in continuous mode with low energy consumption and does not need frequent maintenance.

ELGA Process Water has been providing pure water solutions to the pharmaceutical, healthcare & scientific, food & beverage and microelectronics industries in Ireland for more than 25 years. Technical Director, Martin Phelan explained that companies are not going down the'green' route simply for the sake of the planet.

"All these new solutions that are coming online bring with them numerous tangible benefits that not only make environmental sense but also dramatically impact on the balance sheets of customers, a factor that really accelerates the decision process."

One of the major industries that rely on pure water is the pharmaceutical sector. Faced with stringent international regulation, pharmaceutical companies demand the highest quality at every stage of their operations. However, given the turbulent economic climate worldwide there has been a notable reduction in the number of new, greenfield developments and hence customers are compelled to maximise the efficiency and profitability of their existing facilities. The goal is system design that delivers'zero discharge' since water is too precious to be used only once.

"These customers are under pressure to reduce their water usage and wastewater production because they are being charged for both," said Phelan. "We can help by retrofitting older systems. More often than not we can drive down their costs, reduce the loading on their waste licences and even reduce the footprint of older systems, thus giving them more space in which to operate." Waste water recycling is a very promising path capable of providing large volumes of low cost water.

The Irish operations of multinational companies and indigenous companies operate in a hugely competitive global market where driving down unit price of products is a key element in remaining competitive.

"We saw this happening in our own markets and we knew we had to react," concludes Phelan. "We decided to make a substantial investment in ways to help drive down the cost of their production processes, implementing recycle, reuse and recovery programmes that increase their operational efficiency."

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