A new industrial wastewater treatment system has been developed that can potentially reduce the number of toxins in water by 90%. This membrane-based water treatment system could be used to purify sewage and industrial wastewater. In a water-scarce country like South Africa, such developments have a range of valuable applications.
This water treatment system can also recover precious metals from treated water, allowing them to be reused and sold. The system is being developed using innovative separation filtration technologies, based on tri-bore hollow-fibre membranes. These membranes were invented by Professor Neal Chung at the National University of Singapore.
The tri-bore hollow-fibre membranes resemble the white elastic typically found in bungee cord. Each membrane has three hollow cores that allow water to flow through the centre of the membrane. The membranes filter out most of the toxins, precious metals and solid waste, meaning that less treatment needs to take place after filtration.
Industrial uses of the water treatment system
The hollow-fibre membrane water treatment system could revolutionise industrial water purification. The system is capable of processing around 5000 litres of water per day and can save factories up to 1.6 million litres per year. Water that is unusable would normally be discarded, but this system allows wastewater to be recycled and reused.
Currently, toxic wastewater from factories in South Africa is not reused or recycled. Treatments can be extremely costly and the filtered water still contains toxins. A tri-bore hollow-fibre membrane system will enable industrial plants to purify their water to an acceptable level.
These systems improve efficiency and require less energy to run than conventional thermal separation processes. The hollow-fibre membrane filtration process operates at lower temperatures and under lower pressure than current systems. This reduces operational costs and saves energy.
Setting up a circular economy with water
These filtration systems can also be scaled up in time – perhaps to service entire cities. Municipal water treatment plants and sewage works could use these techniques to ‘free-up’ wastewater for irrigation and firefighting purposes.
It will enable a circular economy to be established around water – where wastewater is turned into a usable resource to be recycled numerous times. This will drastically reduce a city’s water consumption and help to preserve our natural resources; something that will benefit many cities in South Africa.
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