At the Intersection of Water and Industry
Any child can tell you that without water, there would be no life. But less obvious is the role of water in just about every convenience of our modern existence.
Because without water, there would be no industry.
As Growth Technologies Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions, Tracy Young spends her days at the intersection of water and all of the industrial processes that give us things like heat, tap water, and medicine. Young is responsible for helping develop and improve technologies that integrate water into industrial applications as varied and diverse as pharmaceuticals, food production, energy production, municipal use, and chemical and manufacturing processes.
‘Because of the importance of water to Michigan’s economy we are natural leaders for developing technologies that use it economically and sustainably.’
“It can be anything from power plants to bottled water,” Young says. “If you think of bottled water, they generally will treat the water using reverse osmosis before it gets bottled. In a power application, you have a lot of heating and cooling, so they need to soften the water to remove hardness from it, similar to your home-softened water, so they don’t get scale formation in their heat-transfer equipment. If you look at a mining application, they have water they need to treat for the operations, as well as water that comes from acid mine drainage. We can treat that and remove any metals to support the ability to either reuse it or discharge it to the environment.”
Industrial water applications are a growth industry, and the two things that are driving that growth, according to Young, are cost and scarcity. “Innovations to reduce the cost to treat water and in being able to operate manufacturing processes with less water and energy are very important,” she says.
Take reverse osmosis as an example. It’s a pressure-driven process, so you have to use a pump, and it takes a fair amount of energy to pump across the membrane. Young’s job is to figure out how to pump that water ever more efficiently, losing less water and decreasing energy consumption in the process.
“We have new innovations where we have been getting higher performance and enabling higher recovery of treated water at a lower pressure, which translates to being able to use less energy and water overall,” she says. “Higher performance and lower costs are driving trends that supports adoption of these new applications, so that it’s more economical to treat the water.”
And having more efficient ways to treat water translates into a valuable resource for areas facing water shortages.
“When you look at water scarcity, people are looking at more options around using impaired water, and treating that water so it can be reused,” Young says.
Being able to reuse water in scarce-water environments and water-intensive industries presents major competitive advantages. For example, water-intensive industries such as the chemical, petrochemical, pulp and paper, textile, steel, food and beverage industries often reuse municipal wastewater to power their operations. Young’s group not only develops the technology to make that possible, but also develops unique partnerships that make outside-of-the-box, sustainable solutions possible.
“I’m really looking at who plays a different role in the overall water-value chain, and how you look at enabling adoption of solutions,” Young says. “In a public-private partnership, you’re looking at how to bring together a municipality, a technology provider, and perhaps an engineering firm that’s doing the design, with an industrial firm. Sometimes when you only have one player, the hurdle to adopt new technology is too high. How do you look at all of the players together to help solve a water challenge?”
Young sees Michigan as an ideal testing ground for these applications.
“We definitely have a Blue Economy, but how can we capitalize on that as a state?” she asks. “We should be able to attract industry to Michigan that has a heavy-footprint need for water because of the abundance, and I believe we should be able to be more cost-effective in doing so than, for example, Texas.”
And because of the importance of water to Michigan’s economy, Young says, we are natural leaders for developing technologies that use it economically and sustainably.
“At the end of the day, how do we enable products to advance and access to water, so that we all can be good stewards of our world’s water footprint?” For more info, go to dow.com.