Towards industrial water wisdom – This is how you get started with development work

Teemu Turunen


Teemu Turunen
Phil. Lic. (Env. Science)

The industrial sector increasingly requires critical scrutiny of water usage. There is also a growing demand for innovation and startup spirit: at its best, industrial water wisdom is advanced by revamping production methods, enabling the utilization of dissolved particles in water and the energy carried by water. It is crucial to consider water across the entire value chain.

In my previous blog post, I focused on the adequacy of clean water as a global challenge: it is recognized as one of our society’s key risks alongside climate change and biodiversity loss. Hence, it is important to consider water wisdom as a significant part of industrial circular economy.

In Finland, the industrial sector currently accounts for about half of the country’s water consumption. Practically, the majority of water used by industries is surface water, but certain industries also consume significant amounts of prosess water. At the national level, industry utilizes about 15% of supply water.

In the future, industrial water wisdom is likely to play an even more visible role. For instance, significant amounts of water are required for new hydrogen economy solutions: depending on the technology used, electrolysis to produce hydrogen requires 9–10 kg of water per kilogram.

Rationalizing water usage leads to cost savings

The examination of water usage begins with determining if water is necessary in all current applications. Simultaneously, it is worth considering how water cycles could be altered and streamlined. If these aren’t feasible, exploring whether a function or process could be replaced with a less water-intensive alternative is essential. In practice, this could involve acquiring different washing nozzles or investing in closed-loop cooling systems.

When conducting these assessments, it is crucial to remember that water typically carries significant amounts of energy. Thus, achievable cost savings and profitability stem from both energy and water savings.

Revolutionizing production methods for radical benefits

The aforementioned approach might resemble energy audits, but when we comprehensively examine water-wise circular economy, we can identify new opportunities. An intriguing moment for promoting water wisdom is when we boldly reconsider existing production methods.

In the initiatives of many industrial startups, the final product is made using an entirely new production method, with sustainability considerations taken into account more effectively. For example, Spinnova is challenging the textile industry with a production concept that uses significantly less water than traditional methods.

Utilizing dissolved particles in water

The recovery of substances and materials dissolved in water or carried by water brings benefits in two ways: enabling their utilization and simultaneously reducing the load of wastewater treatment. Water can carry valuable materials that can be recovered in very small concentrations, for example, with the particle capture solution developed by Weeefiner Ltd.

Also, nutrients can be recovered from water, improving Europe’s self-sufficiency in nitrogen- and phosphorus-based industrial chemicals and fertilizers. In the food industry, it is essential to recover fat to prevent excessive load. Animal fat also finds applications, such as in the production of biodiesel, soap, or vaseline.

Once materials and raw ingredients have been recovered, it is beneficial to utilize the energy carried by water. Recovery can be done from treated wastewater or even earlier if it is feasible for overall efficiency.

Using water footprint to form the big picture

As described above, water must be viewed across the entire value chain. One tool for building a comprehensive picture is the water footprint. There are several methods for assessing it, each emphasizing different water-related aspects.

Even though creating a holistic method can be challenging, it is important to quantify the benefits of actions taken and thereby concretize this broad concept. On the consumer side, progress has been driven, among others, by the Finnish Environment Institute, whose water footprint calculator serves as a useful tool for consumers. In the future, water-related tools will increasingly be developed to meet industrial needs.

Do you know how to start developing water wisdom in your company?

Our experts have crafted 20 key questions to help you identify key areas of water wisdom within your company. Download the question list and take your development forward!

Want to know more? Check out these articles:

Resource efficiency

Would you like to boost the resource efficiency of your operations? We design efficient production plants and processes and improve the operational efficiency of energy and materials.

Industrial circular economy

We are your expert partner in industrial bio and circular economy. We offer services ranging from developing individual units to entire plant projects.