How Undesert is Changing Global Wastewater Management As We Know It

From oil and gas extraction to food processing and more, most industries that drive modern life are also responsible for generating a majority of the world’s wastewater. And it's getting worse—according to a report published in 2020, global wastewater production will increase by 24% by 2030 and a staggering 51% by 2050.

So the question arises: what happens to this wastewater? Where does it go and how is it processed? The latest report published by UNEP in August 2023 reveals that only 11 percent of treated wastewater is reused today, while about half of global untreated wastewater still ends up in lakes, rivers, and seas.

With the looming global freshwater scarcity and climate crisis, it’s time to find effective and sustainable wastewater management solutions that allow for the safe and sustainable reuse of treated water. 

The problem is that the most commonly used disposal methods are costly in more ways than one. Not only are they expensive to implement, they are not equipped to fully decontaminate the wastewater generated by some industrial activities. 

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. In this blog, we'll explore the currently used methods of industrial wastewater management and understand how Undesert's SWAP technology can offer a sustainable, scalable alternative that addresses the limitations of current treatments. 

The 3 Most Common Methods For Industrial Wastewater Management Today

1 - Unprocessed Wastewater Disposal

As indicated in the name, this involves directly releasing untreated wastewater into nearby bodies of water, such as lakes and rivers. Or, in the case of Ohio, pouring the produced water directly onto the roads to de-ice them in the winter or keep the dust down in the summer.

This Type of Wastewater Management is a Problem

This method comes with severe environmental risks as it contaminates water sources, causing biodiversity loss and creating health hazards for all living beings. 

Moreover, it aggravates climate change and can take a heavy toll both in the short and long run. Given the growing global freshwater crisis, we must choose more responsible and sustainable wastewater management practices.

2 - Underground Disposal or Evaporation Ponds

Evaporation ponds are artificial water bodies with large surface areas that evaporate wastewater, leaving behind salt from which minerals can be extracted. Meanwhile, underground disposal involves injecting polluted water into deep aquifers or disposal wells that are drilled thousands of feet underground. Several industries have used both methods for decades as a relatively low-cost way to dispose of wastewater. 

Challenges with This Type of Wastewater Management

Unfortunately, both disposal methods pose a significant risk for potential downstream health problems, environmental damage and regulation issues.

When not maintained, evaporation ponds can leak hazardous contaminants into the surrounding area, polluting the soil and damaging the health of humans and animals alike. On the other hand, underground wastewater disposal not only poses a risk of groundwater contamination but has also been observed to induce earthquakes in some cases, due to the buildup of fluid pressure below the surface. 

3 - Reverse Osmosis

The state-of-the-art in water filtration, reverse osmosis (RO) can desalinate water as well as filter out other chemicals and minerals. This process involves forcing water through a special semi-permeable membrane that allows pure water to pass through while blocking out larger contaminants. 

RO is widely used around the world for both domestic and industrial water treatment since it is more effective than most other available methods. 

Challenges with Reverse Osmosis

Despite its popularity, reverse osmosis comes with its limitations. It is not only expensive to implement, but it also has a high energy consumption and generates 20% waste as output. RO is also unable to treat produced wastewater from oil and gas extraction, as the presence of dissolved organic compounds, complex chemicals and hydrocarbons can irreversibly damage the RO membranes.

Furthermore, RO membranes are only capable of desalinating water with less than 50k PPM of salt (sea water contains 25k PPM salt).  Produced water, on the other hand, contains 100k PPM salt together with other contaminants like grease, oil and organic compounds that RO is unable to filter out.

SWAP Technology: The Next Evolution in Wastewater Management 

To tackle the global wastewater crisis, Undesert has developed the SWAP (Salty Wastewater Purification) technology. Our multi-patented solution is designed to purify the world's most contaminated wastewater, leaving behind only ultra-pure 5 PPM water and dry salt. 

SWAP efficiently treats water with up to 200k PPM salt content. But its capabilities don't stop at desalination; SWAP can separate water from various minerals and chemicals. Scalable and sustainable, this process consumes very little energy and can run 24x7 with minimal supervision. 

While SWAP can be deployed as a standalone wastewater treatment system, it can also work together with existing disposal methods to enhance their effectiveness: 

  • Pre-treatment For Evaporation Ponds: By utilizing SWAP tech for pre-treatment, the water released into evaporation ponds becomes ultra-pure, eliminating environmental risks associated with contaminated water leaching underground. 
  • Enhancing RO Processes: By combining SWAP with RO systems, we can expedite water purification and reduce the strain on RO membranes. This can extend membranes’ lifespan, enhance efficiency, and lower energy consumption. 
  • Safeguarding Surrounding Ecosystems: SWAP can purify both industrial and municipal wastewater to remove all biological and chemical contaminants. This ensures that only ultra-pure water is released, protecting the health and biodiversity of the surrounding environment.

Solving the water crisis and climate change will involve a concerted effort and a combination of approaches, and wastewater management is a key piece of the puzzle. With SWAP, we are ready to tackle this challenge head-on and make sustainable wastewater purification a reality for all.

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