The reuse of treated wastewater (as a resource for industry) should be playing a significant role in mitigating South Africa’s serious water shortages. John Holmes, CEO of NuWater, talks about the role of water treatment as a trusted source of potable water and the potential it has for South Africa as whole.
What are the types of water treatment available for water reuse – potable water?
The challenges facing South Africa in securing its water security continue to grow, and these are exacerbated by unpredictable climatic cycles. This means that all options available to improve the reliability of water supply and the quality of water delivered are being considered and evaluated. In recent times, two of these options have been receiving growing attention, namely seawater desalination and wastewater reclamation and reuse. Seawater desalination is generally accepted as a viable method for producing potable water, although it remains energy-intensive and therefore costly. Wastewater reclamation and reuse, be that from treated secondary sewage water or from industrial wastewater, is a far implemore cost-effective option. There are social considerations relating to the reuse of wastewater as potable/drinking water; however, reuse of reclaimed wastewater for industrial purposes is immediately achievable.
How advanced is the use of treated potable water in South Africa today, and what regulations pertain to it?
The adoption of desalination technologies for both seawater and wastewater reclamation and reuse is in its infancy in South Africa. There are a number of seawater desalination plants in operation along the Cape coastline, including NuWater’s plant in Sedgefield. However, there is still no large-scale seawater desalination plant serving a major coastal city. This is not necessarily surprising given the capital and operating costs of such plants. What is more surprising is that we still throw away huge volumes of treated wastewater that could easily be reclaimed and reused at a far lower cost than seawater desalination. There are obviously still sensitivities around the reuse of reclaimed wastewater for drinking purposes, even though this water is of the highest potable standard. All we are doing is accelerating natural processes through the use of advanced membrane technologies. In time, and as the pressures on our water resources grow, we believe it is inevitable that people will accept wastewater reclamation and reuse not just as a last resort but as central to the country’s water management strategy. NuWater’s strategy is to demonstrate the practical use of our advanced technologies and rapidly deployable modular plants through private sector projects with industrial customers such as that at Anglo American Thermal Coal’s New Vaal Colliery. Such projects need to be used to educate policy makers and local government officials on the benefits and practical implementation of such projects in the public sector.
Water provision in rural areas is sometimes hampered by a lack of bulk water infrastructure. What role can water treatment play in this?
In NuWater’s view, ensuring the reliable supply of high quality water to South Africa’s people and industries requires a combination of tactical and strategic solutions. Addressing the water treatment needs of fragmented rural communities clearly requires distributed solutions that can be quickly deployed as it is unrealistic to assume that bulk water infrastructure will be rolled out to these communities in the foreseeable future. NuWater’s modular, and where necessary mobile, solutions offer a practical and cost-effective solution to these distributed water treatment requirements. However, the roll-out of such solutions needs to be joined up with strategic infrastructure plans. We intend to participate throughout the value chain, delivering immediate tactical solutions while at the same time participating in strategic infrastructure development.
How does NuWater intend growing its presence in the South African water treatment and desalination markets?
NuWater already has an impressive track record of delivering seawater desalination and reclamation and reuse projects both in South Africa and internationally. Through its recent cooperation agreement with Murray & Roberts, it is positioning itself to play a major role in the development of both these areas. The strategy is to leverage NuWater’s proven largediameter reverse osmosis (RO) technology and its successfully delivered projects in Singapore – a world-leader in the adoption of both seawater desalination and wastewater reclamation and reuse – and combine this with Murray & Robert’s engineering and project execution capabilities. This agreement will allow the two companies to offer a range of solutions and service offerings, from small modular and rapidly deployable water treatment and desalination plants through to large-scale water infrastructure projects, for both private and public sector customers. NuWater is a world-leader in Reverse Osmosis technology used in desalination applications, be that seawater, brackish or industrial wastewater desalination. NuWater’s RO technology makes for highly efficient and compact desalination plants. The compact and modular nature of its plants has allowed it to offer large-scale plants that can be rapidly deployed in weeks instead of the years typically associated with conventional desalination projects. Such rapidly deployable plants are already in use by leading mining companies, such as Anglo American and Gold Fields, to treat and desalinate mine wastewater for reuse, relieving their demands on water resources shared with other industries and the broader communities. At the same time, NuWater’s technology is just as appropriate for use in more conventional desalination plants such as those found at Singapore’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) where 55 million litres per day of secondary sewage water is reclaimed for use as high-quality industrial process water or for return back into reservoirs to supplement the island nation’s water supply. Murray & Roberts is South Africa’s leading engineering, contracting and construction services company, ideally positioning it to become a key player in the water sector. The company recently established Murray & Roberts Water for this purpose and sought out a partner with the technology, innovative solutions and project execution credibility to complement its existing strengths. NuWater ticked all those boxes and more. Likewise NuWater has been looking for a partner to allow it to undertake more conventional large infrastructure projects where it could leverage its technology, plant designs and experience. The combination of NuWater’s technology, innovative approach and delivery track record combined with Murray & Robert’s strength in civil engineering and project execution positions us very well to lead the broader adoption of advanced water treatment and desalination technologies in South Africa.
BOO models have been promoted in areas where municipal capacity is lacking. NuWater already offers BOO models in the private sector. Is this a model NuWater is considering within the broader South African context?
Technology and project delivery capability is all very well but if projects can’t get off the ground because of a lack of available upfront capital, then alternative financing solutions become necessary. NuWater understands the importance of flexible project financing options and BOO is one of these options. NuWater already offers BOO solutions to private sector customers and intends to extend this offering into the public sector where the credit-worthiness of the customer is sufficient or where other parties agree to provide additional security. NuWater’s ability to fund its own projects is a key part of its development strategy.
What are the key growth areas in South Africa when it comes to water treatment across the board: industry, domestic sanitation, domestic potable and agricultural?
The ability to offer innovative distributed solutions to address the water treatment requirements of rural villages and small towns that lack water treatment infrastructure, while at the same time having the capability to execute large world-class advanced water reclamation and desalination projects for major cities, is something that to date has not been available in South Africa. Our relationship with Murray & Roberts Water offers just that and positions us very well to participate in the growth of South Africa’s water and wastewater treatment sectors. What is certain is that the demand for reliable high-quality water will continue to grow and probably continue to outstrip supply for quite a number of years. NuWater aims to participate in a broad range of projects designed to close this gap between demand and supply.