Plant-Wide Approach

Water treatment strategies are evolving quickly, marrying digital offerings with chemistries, promoting environmentally sound practices and optimizing plant performance. These integrated programs are leading to new efficiencies and greater control.
By Lisa Gibson | March 12, 2021

Understanding how a water treatment strategy will affect an ethanol plant’s operations is an art, says Ted Lawson, strategic marketing director with Veolia Water Technologies. A true, detailed knowledge of the routes treated water takes through a plant and the impacts it can have is key to developing a water management program, he adds.

Veolia isn’t the only company dealing in water that emphasizes a holistic approach. Suez Water Technologies & Solutions and Kurita America focus on impacts, as well, and all agree that each plant’s ideal water treatment strategy differs greatly from the next. A strategy could depend on water availability, local water quality, regulatory requirements, environmental goals and more.

“Ultimately, yes, they’re an ethanol plant, they make ethanol, they make animal feed, but they’re different,” says Mitch Manstedt, strategic business leader of Kurita America’s Biofuels Group. “Every plant is different in how they operate, water source, equipment. It really is a customized approach for each facility.

“It’s about knowing the plant, the systems; it’s about knowing what the water quality is; it’s about knowing the permits, the regulations in each state,” he adds.

Beyond holistic views, Veolia, Suez and Kurita America seem to agree on the importance of a plant’s profitability, efficiency, consumption and carbon scores in a quickly advancing industry. This evolution of water treatment arises from changing customer needs.

“We’re constantly listening to our customers to evolve our strategy, looking around a corner to see what challenges they may be faced with and trying to solve those tough problems,” says Pete Macios, executive product manager with Suez.

Expertise and Integration
“We had a good basis, prior to Kurita, with US Water and Fremont,” Manstedt says, of Kurita’s recent acquisition of the two U.S. service providers. “It’s not just the service side, it’s also the process chemistry side. We don’t look at just the operations, just boiler, just cooling. They rely on each other.

The plant relies on that for making ethanol or animal feed, or sanitizer or whatever they’re making. We really take pride in being part of everything that goes into an ethanol plant.”

Todd Emslander, Kurita America’s executive vice president, also emphasizes the all-encompassing expertise Kurita America now offers. “We’re fortunate to have people on our team that understand the process and have been working with these plants for 15 to 20 years. Also, we’ve got a very strong understanding of the implications of these changes. They might have an impact down the line. We can mitigate those changes.”

Emslander says the process of water treatment at an ethanol plant starts upfront, with understanding the water source. “Make sure that that treatment program meets all the specifications and requirements of the process, chemical program to help treat that water, equipment, controls and monitoring systems. All of that has to be tied in with the facility.

“In the plant itself, we have to understand the equipment that we’re treating and, again, have those types of treatment programs inside the facility that can help them maintain efficiencies in cooling and heating that allow them to run efficiently.” He adds that Kurita America’s approach includes a well-rounded team—engineering, installation, field teams. “And we all work together to come up with that customized solution.”

Veolia, too, combines its expertise to tailor solutions. “We offer an integrated approach to water treatment,” Lawson says. “We aren’t solely biased by our chemicals, nor our equipment, nor some of the services that we offer. Our approach is to integrate all of those into the most cost-effective and/or sustainable solutions to whatever challenges any given plant might have.”

Conservation Conscious
Conservation and water recycling boost the sustainability factor significantly, and many ethanol plants are evaluating their options along those lines.

“Sooner or later, everyone will have to be a little more conscious about how we manage this commodity called water,” Lawson says. “As we continue to develop newer technologies that treat water more economically, the cost picture and ROI for reclaimed, reused and/or recycled continues to change as well, positively.

“Reclaim and reuse is an area where we see the industry heading, out of necessity,” Lawson adds. “We need to help create and utilize more cost-effective sources of water. If we can find economical ways to reduce consumption, improve conservation and/or reclaim and reuse water, we can help that bottom line.”

Reclaiming and recycling water at a plant could be as simple as diverting the water back to the process, ensuring the water quality doesn’t impact the ethanol or animal feed, Manstedt says. It could be a large capital investment with equipment and installation, or as simple as pipe. Kurita America even uses modeling programs to determine the chemistry of the water returned to the system, to ensure it doesn’t impact yeast or enzyme function, Manstedt adds.

“A lot of plants early on got into some issues where they started recycling water without doing the proper engineering and investigation,” he says. Sodium levels could be too high, or minerals end up cycling up in evaporators and causing more issues.

“You’ve got to take the time to look at everything before you do these recycle projects to ensure the plant can handle the loading of the water and can handle the chemistries that are in that water.”

Macios agrees. As water is reused, it becomes more corrosive and more deposit-forming, he cautions. “You need a chemistry that can handle the reuse portion, but the little bit that is discharged has to be compliant.”

Recycled or reclaimed water could go into cook, the fermentation scrubber, or even into the utility side. Again, it depends on the plant, Manstedt says. Plants might recycle water for a variety of reasons, Emslander says, citing sustainable water management, environmental compliance and water scarcity issues.

“There are so many issues around water these days that not only affect the ethanol industry but everywhere in the manufacturing sector,” Emslander says. “We’re really trying to be on the forefront of those types of sustainable water reuse and reduction solutions for our customers.”

Manstedt points out that Kurita America is a cofounder of the Water Resilience Coalition, a partnership between its customers and water treatment suppliers to reduce water usage, improve water quality and evaluate scarcity issues. “We’re really focusing on water for the future and the environment.

“Ethanol plants, renewable fuels plants, they are on the forefront of environmental solutions, because of the nature of the product they make, to reduce greenhouse gas, reduce CO2,” Manstedt says. “Water’s right along with that. It’s another driver for them to be environmental stewards and to improve the water quality or the water scarcities that are in their specific pockets.”

With an eye toward more output with less input, Suez focuses on water conservation, Macios says. “There’s always a goal to increase production using less assets. … We always talk to our customers to see what they’re looking for. Our customers want more output from their plants, but there’s a trend toward sustainability. And leveraging of the internet of things in the digital world.”

Digitize and Modernize
Suez, Veolia, Kurita America, Nalco and other water treatment service providers are all emphasizing digital tie-ins and add-ons with their products.

Suez’s Insight platform is used for boiler operation and cooling water assets, but also to track performance of evaporators and centrifuges, Macios says. “We’re collecting that data and integrating it with the DCS, arming our teams with the best digital tools and analytics.”

Suez’s iVap is a series of analytics that allows producers to know when to cycle their evaporators, when to take them out of service and do clean-in-place. “It’s sensors, hardware, controllers, asset performance monitoring,” Macios says. “We bring all of this data from that evaporator into the tool, do the computation in the cloud. And that controls how we apply our chemistry.

“Our customers are savvy. They know that having this view into the operation of their plants gives them a little bit of an assurance and certainty around that asset, and it allows them to optimize that asset.”

Paired with iVap, Suez’s cleaning products bring sustainability and analytics to evaporator cleaning. Macios says it makes the evaporators more available for producers and allows decreased chemicals use. “We know exactly when to clean,” Macios says. “We’re really trying to marry these digital solutions along with chemistry to allow the customer to get more output.”

Along with its cleaners, Suez’s lines of coagulants and flocculants help extract more corn oil, and its E.C.O.Film treats cooling towers without the use of phosphorous.

At Veolia, a comprehensive auditing process called Screen evaluates every operation that touches the water, Lawson says. It looks for better opportunities to conserve or reuse water in the plant so it doesn’t end up in the wastewater plant or discharged. “We look at different technical opportunities to reduce the plant’s water footprint by reducing make-up water demand,” he says.

Veolia also provides on-site operational services under its Aquaservice umbrella and a suite of digital tools called HubGrade that includes online engineering assistance. “We run the gamut from more simple, traditional services to more intensive automation and service offerings, depending on the plant needs,” Lawson says.

Kurita America also is working on technological and digital advancements in water treatment, with its long history of automation, Manstedt says. “We have lots of technologies we can now bring to the ethanol industry that were never brought before.”

Those include treatment systems to reduce water and chemical use, even going to a one-chemical system in some applications. These technologies help with recycling and the process side, too, Manstedt adds. Kurita America also has developed software for digital water management and sensors to see real-time direct water use, detecting leaks, overuse and underuse. Kurita’s new offerings also include chemistry technologies, membrane technologies, light filtration systems and seamless integration of controls.

“Kurita has a history of development,” Manstedt says. “We’re working on developing new process chemistries to integrate into these ethanol facilities.

“We’re not quite ready to roll everything out yet, but there are things coming down the pipeline that will greatly impact the operations of not only the water side in these ethanol facilities, but also the process side.”

Emslander says, “Under Kurita, we’re able to go in and essentially bring all of the specific unit operations from the water treatment side together into one control package that fits right in with the plant DCS systems, and they’re able to control that just like they would control any other part of their process.

“We’ve had some pretty good recent successes with that. It’s exciting.”

As the world heads toward digital services and technological advancements, water treatment providers have not been left behind. Instead, they’re forging their way and leading the pack.

“That’s where we can really make a huge impact on reducing manpower on the water treatment side, and also gives us the ability to see what’s going on in those facilities so we can react properly to make sure that the systems are treated well,” Manstedt says.    

Author: Lisa Gibson
Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine
[email protected]