Our world is changing, and we need to keep up
On a global scale, we are facing massive challenges in adapting to changes in infrastructures, environment and climate that led to our common UN goals for a more sustainable planet by 2030. 28-10-2019
It sounds achievable: 17 main goals, 169 sub-goals to give direction, and 15 years to find the right balance. But time flies, and lack of initiative leave us far behind where we should be, as we soon finish off the year 2019. One thing we do not lack, however, is solutions that work.
For AVK, goal #6 of reaching clean water and sanitation for all, is paramount. Without water, there is no life – and in reaching the other goals for a sustainable development, water too plays a significant role. One of the current topics within change mitigation is energy. Even a country as Mexico, with a massive oil production, has seen the necessity in considering greener solutions. But in this whole debate about energy, water is yet again left out of the equation.
Water and energy are inseparable elements. Water management needs energy, and energy production needs water. The only problem here is, that water from energy production cannot be used for water supply afterwards. With known technology though, it is possible to keep water’s journey through society energy neutral, so that water supply, wastewater collection and following treatment can be driven without any external energy source.
Today, it is possible to produce enough surplus energy from sludge to drive the water supply network. That is, if the water supply network is under control. This very moment, 80 percent of wastewater worldwide is led directly into nature without any prior treatment. Not only an environmental disgrace, and a process that generates three times as much CO2 than if the water was properly treated, but also a massive waste of potential.
A sub-target to goal #6 is that when we hit 2030, half of the wastewater that is now discharged into nature without treatment, should be collected and treated. If this is achieved, and the currently collected 20 percent were used for energy production, it would meet the output from all coal-fired power plants in Europe. In other words: the equivalent output could have all the coal-fired power plants in Europe shut down. Imagine the CO2 reduction here!
Based on these facts, water should have a much higher priority on the climate action agenda, blaming the high emissions of CO2 for the crucial changes we see around the world. And these changes affect water supply too; both when there is too much of it, too little, and when the water quality is unacceptable. Extreme rain and flooding contaminate the water quality, and destroy the water network equipment. Water scarcity means fewer resources at hand, and an unstable supply for the dependent society. Unsafe water is simply a health risk - a risk that costs more than one million lives every year due to critical waterborne diseases. One child for every one and a half minute.
So, water is indeed linked to a more sustainable future, and has an enormous impact on human health and well-being.
Towards circular management of our resources
Water, or more specifically wastewater, is also related to the huge amounts of garbage rapidly covering our planet. Every day, millions of tons of garbage are generated, and for the most part, it ends up at landfill sites. Fortunately, many countries are conscious about of the problem, and are looking towards the numerous benefits of recycling. By dividing the fragments from the source site, only a fragment of all garbage would have to end up as landfill. By transporting domestic organic waste to a treatment plant, and mixing it with sludge, the plant would be able to produce up to, or perhaps even more than, twice the amount than the plant needs to run itself. Win-win, right?
The energy from a treatment plant is obtained as biogas, which can be converted into electrical power and heat (or cooling). Taking the sustainable approach even further, it could be used for “fuelling” the public transport, or the garbage trucks for that matter. This would similarly have a positive effect on the air quality in the city by minimising particle pollution, and in that sense also minimise the impact on human health.
In addition, the biomass can be used to produce aviation fuel. Both Aalborg University and Science Centre Foulum under Aarhus University has verified; this is a solution that has far greater reach than adding tax on the flight ticket in the hope of changing behaviour. And should the latter be decided, it should be with the sole purpose of channelling these extra cash towards further research into the possibilities within this technique. This would truly hold perspectives.
Danish solutions can impact the water agenda in Mexico
In September, AVK attended a Cleantech delegation visit in Mexico arranged by the Danish Embassy in Mexico and the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri). Under various meetings with representatives from the Mexican administration, governors, provincial governments and city councils, the above-mentioned views and realities were put forward. Water is, unfortunately, a very underrated topic in Mexico, but now it seems to have moved forward on the agenda. AVK has been invited to meet up with the Mexican administration secretariat for energy and infrastructure, to further pinpoint and discuss all the aspects of water and energy.
To put things into perspective, it should be mentioned that Mexico City sinks with a staggering 30 cm every year due to an over-exploitation of groundwater reserves. Nature simply cannot keep up with the development in demand. While also being able to use surface water as a resource, the water balance deficiency is as high as 2 million m3 a year. This will, eventually, lead to a substantial water crisis.
It has been tested to close down the water supply a couple of times within a week, to cut down on usage. So far, this has only led to numerous pipe bursts and water contamination as a vacuum is created within the network, dragging soil and dirt into the water pipes. Even though the city is located 2,200 metres above sea level, and therefore far from the bottom, this is not a sustainable solution.
Simultaneously, the city generates 13,000 tons of garbage every day, of which 1,400 are organic waste that could be transformed into energy. Alongside AVK, other Danish companies have been invited to help Mexico turn the situation around and lift the city’s water supply and wastewater handling to a sustainable level. A sustainable supply adds quality and liveability to the society, and by efficiently utilise waste as a resource, it can create value by driving public processes such as water supply and transportation.
To obtain a sustainable supply, water losses in the region would need to get under control. Today, water losses account for around 40 percent. This needs to be lowered to an acceptable level, and citizens need to become more aware of their daily usage. Right now, the average is 350 litres per citizen, which is more than twice the recommended 106 litres proposed by the UN.
By working together, Denmark have the competencies, the solutions and the knowledge to generate the necessary changes.