Achieving Sustainability: Management practices, alternative water sources and unaddressed issues in industrial water consumption

Management practices, alternative water sources and unaddressed issues in industrial water consumption

Industrial water management has become an area of critical importance in the past few years due to a range of issues such as freshwater availability, statutory regulations and the increasing cost of water. Various industries such as steel, oil refineries, textiles, and paper and pulp require a regular supply of fresh water for their operations. Hence, it is vital for industries to find sustainable solutions to ensure a regular supply of water without harming local ecosystems.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the current industrial water requirements and management practices of key industries, alternative sources of water, industrial effluent generation, the regulatory framework pertaining to the industrial use of water and the challenges faced by industries…

Reliance Industries Limited

Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has a number of industrial plants situated in 13 locations across the country. These comprise the petrochemical, refining and marketing, oil and gas and textile sectors. The plants situated at RIL’s Jamnagar Manufacturing Division (JMD) have been taking various innovative water management initiatives to meet their water requirements.

RIL’s industrial water requirements depend upon each plant’s size and location. Water at its industrial units is being drawn from a wide range of sources comprising both surface and ground water sources. The company has adopted water supply alternatives such as wastewater recycling and desalination for meeting its requirements. At present, 75-80 per cent of the wastewater is being recovered through secondary and tertiary treatment including ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis.

A desalination plant with a capacity of 450 million litres per day (mld) has also been set up at JMD. The plant, which is a blend of thermal and seawater reverse osmosis, caters to the entire water demand of RIL’s industrial units in Jamnagar. The capital cost of the desalination plant is about Rs 250 million per hundred cubic metres (cum) whereas the operational cost ranges between Rs 25 and Rs 30 per kilolitre depending upon the power tariff.

The existing regulatory framework in Gujarat prohibits the use of groundwater by industries and strict regulations are in place for the use of fresh water. As a result, wastewater treatment is being extensively utilised at various locations as an internal source of water supply. Crude oil refineries and steel plants generate a huge amount of effluents such as complex hydrocarbons and heavy metals. RIL has invested extensively in effluent treatment plants with every plant deploying downstream ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis technologies to ensure maximum recovery of wastewater.

Zero liquid discharge (ZLD) is another practice that is driven by statutory requirements but is not a cost-effective option for industries. Hence, regulatory authorities have made ZLD mandatory only for pharmaceutical and heavy metal industries as their effluent generation is relatively lower and the cost of ZLD does not exponentially increase the overall cost of operations.

RIL also has internal regulations such as standards set for efficient use of water. Water for industrial purposes is being used in a cascading manner – untreated water is utilised for lower-end operations and fresh water is reserved for complex functions. Hence, RIL has been operating beyond the 3Rs (recycle, reduce, reuse) and has established a highly integrated water management system that aims to reduce the water footprint of its industrial units.

Tata Steel

Tata Steel is a prominent player in the Indian steel industry and has been amongst the prime movers in the technological revolution in the Indian cold rolled steel industry. With massive levels of operations, Tata Steel has developed a sustainability framework and environmental policy that focuses on water conservation by relying on the 5R principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and recharge.

The steel industry, as one of the most water-intensive industries, requires a certain quality of water for operations. Since Tata Steel has been sharing waterbodies with local communities, they have worked extensively towards lowering their water consumption. At the Jamshedpur plant, which is more than 100 years old, new technological advancements have been made to reduce the water footprint. However, introducing technological modifications for plants that are 25-30 years old is not feasible. At such plants, wastewater recycling is being practised to the maximum extent possible. The entire sewage of the Tata township in Jamshedpur is being collected at sewage treatment plants for industrial purposes. Hence, through such rigorous water conservation practices, Tata Steel has been able to reduce its freshwater consumption by 62 per cent despite registering a 40 per cent increase in steel production. With regard to costs, the cost incurred on treating sewage water is around Rs 5.40 per cum (depending upon auxiliary costs) whereas the cost of sourcing water from rivers is about Rs 11.30. Hence, Tata Steel is utilising treated sewage extensively for meeting its water requirements.

In order to increase the amount of wastewater discharged into the waterbodies, Tata Steel has set up a common effluent treatment plant (CETP). The water sourced from this plant costs Rs 16-Rs 17 per cum. The energy cost is relatively lower at around Rs 3.80 per kWh as power is being generated by Tata Steel in Jamshedpur. With all its conservation practices, the Jamshedpur steel plant is expected to become water positive by 2025.

At present, around 5 million gallons per day (mgd) of effluents are being treated at the CETP and around 4.5 mgd of the most highly concentrated effluent is being released from the plant premises. Another effluent treatment plant (ETP) with a capacity of 1 mgd to treat this category of wastewater is being developed. The remaining 3.5 mgd of effluents will be taken to the CETP and the capacity of the CETP will eventually be increased to 9 mgd.

As far as the regulatory landscape is concerned, there are various restrictions on the drawal of surface water for industrial purposes. The discharge into local waterbodies is also monitored and all the industries have to abide by the regulations as the data pertaining to effluent discharge is sent to the central and state pollution boards. Hence, Tata Steel has been making rigorous efforts to ensure maximum utilisation of wastewater and minimum discharge of effluents.

Jindal Steel and Power Limited

Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) has emerged as an industrial powerhouse over the years with a dominant presence in the steel, power, mining and infrastructure sectors. Its operating stations have an environment management department that ensures adherence to mandatory environmental standards.

The current water consumption by JSPL’s plants stands at around 20.8 million cum per annum. The availability of fresh water for industrial purposes has emerged as an area of concern over the past few years. However, the company has been able to avoid any gap in the demand and supply of water. The Mahanadi river (12 million cum) and the Kelo river (8.8 million cum) have been JSPL’s primary sources of water for the past 30 years. Recycling of wastewater is also being practised through the sewage treatment plant (STP) situated at JSPL’s manufacturing facility. There are also five water reservoirs with a combined capacity of 1.4 million cum.

Water from the two rivers is being sourced from downstream due to which the cost is relatively low at around Rs 5.51 per cum. The cost of water for other plants drawing water from different locations of the river is around Rs 10 per cum. The energy cost for getting water at the plant is around Rs 4 per kWh.

JSPL has set up six STPs of different capacities at various locations along with effluent recycling systems. It is also planning to develop an ETP in the future. The untreated wastewater is being utilised for various lower-end functions such as wet ash handling systems, slag cooling and dust suppression.

The regulations are being enforced strictly now, due to which industrial plants have to scrutinise their water drawal activities and ensure that they are not violating any guidelines. In Chhattisgarh, there is a prohibition on sourcing groundwater for industrial use and the water being sourced from the rivers is also being monitored by local authorities.

Challenges faced by the industries

Scarcity of water resources has led to various industries facing multiple challenges that can adversely impact their productivity. The issue of water availability is being resolved by exploring alternative sources such as recycling of wastewater and rainwater harvesting. Statutory regulations are also being framed by government agencies keeping in mind the interest of industries as well as local communities.

ZLD, which is being promoted through the regulatory framework, is not considered to be financially viable for industrial plants as multi-effect evaporators and crystallisers have to be deployed at a very high cost. The disposal of recovered solids, which are categorised as hazardous waste, is also an issue as the cost of disposing them of is exorbitantly high.

Other issues pertaining to water include drawing water from downstream of rivers during the summer and leakages in water pipelines. The river downstream does not have abundant water during the summer. Also, water pipelines that were laid 25-30 years ago have to replaced and rerouted as they suffer from frequent leakages.

The way forward

It has been accepted that agricultural and municipal water needs have to be given priority. It has thus become difficult for industrial plants to source water from local waterbodies. Hence, alternative sources of water such as the use of seawater through desalination in coastal areas and treated wastewater are being explored. The Ministry of Jal Shakti has also been contemplating the use of treated sewage for industrial purposes.

In the coming years, industries cannot avoid investing in water technologies and will require more skilled and technical manpower in the industrial water management segment. Future projects that are currently at the planning stage will also be deemed feasible only if water availability issues are addressed and a regular supply of water is assured. Hence, cost-effective water technologies will play a vital role going forward. w

Based on a panel discussion among K.V. Suryam, Vice President, Centre of Excellence, RIL; Arunava Das, Head, Water Management, Tata Steel; and Sanjay Malani, General Manager, JSPL, at a recent India Infrastructure conference