We live in a changing era in which the old ways of business, or the blind pursuit of profit, are no longer rational. Resource scarcity, and water scarcity in particular, demands a new paradigm, one in which businesses operate sustainably at the intersection of conservation and shareholder value.
In Southeast Asia, palm oil and data centers represent two water-consumptive industries that are taking great strides to ensure effective water management in the communities they serve.
The two thirsty industries
Palm oil, data center and other heat-generating industries use water in cooling systems or steam in the operations, and the amount of water they consume is poised to exponentially grow along with the region. In Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil consumes 3,500 to 7,500 liters of water per metric ton of oil produced, used in fruit processing, steam boilers and water-intensive cooling systems. That means by end of this year, with global production of palm oil of 72.27 million metric tons, palm oil processing absorbed an amount of water roughly equivalent to the water volume of Indonesia’s largest lake, Lake Toba.
Similarly, a data center typically consumes approximately 30 million liters of water annually. With 155 data centers currently operating in Southeast Asia, that translates to four billion liters of water consumed here this year alone.
With the region’s exponential growth, we can expect the water needs of these industries to grow exponentially too.
Cooling should be smarter and environment friendly
For cooling systems, smart water management means proactively employing technology to prevent the corrosion and scaling that lead to equipment failures and consequent overuse of water. Traditionally, phosphorus (P) has been used as a corrosion inhibitor. But too much phosphorus in fresh water promotes hyper-growth of oxygen-eating algae, literally suffocating the water.
Replacing phosphorus with environmentally sustainable non-phosphorus (non-P) solutions avoids the chemical agents that have traditionally promoted algae and suffocated fresh water sources.
Digital in smart water management
Effective water treatment solutions require reliable system monitoring and control. That is, digital and chemical solutions for boilers that monitor boiler corrosion and hardness, delivering correct dosages of oxygen to prevent scale inside the boiler. These digital tools, such as Ecolab’s 3D TRASAR™, allow palm oil mill managers to monitor operations 24/7, providing real-time information on automated changes in the system, corrective actions, and results. Data that would be manually recorded today is delivered real-time and automatically saved to the cloud so that company managers elsewhere can see it too.
This has been especially relevant during COVID-19 when remote sites are less accessible.
Celebrating World Water Day
While we’ve come a long way in effective water management, there is still a long way to go. World Water Day offers an opportunity to affirm the resource challenges before us and to redouble our commitment to achieving a sustainable world. Smart water management strategies must remain at the forefront of our business strategies.
In my perspective, water is our greatest life-giving resource. As clean water supplies at risk across SEA, it’s imperative that we harness all of our technical expertise towards improving both the quality of our raw water as well as wastewater discharge.