RMIT is leading an Australia-India collaboration to address water scarcity and identify ways to reduce the impact by implementing sustainable integrated water management practices.
While Australia and India possess different industrial, economic, geographic and cultural characteristics, they do share similar environmental problems such as water scarcity.
A recent World Bank report on High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy says the combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.
This is compounded by the deterioration in the water quality due to partially treated or untreated industrial discharges as well as adverse conditions such as frequent droughts, storms and flooding caused by climate change.
Unless action is taken soon, the report warns that reduced freshwater availability and competition from other uses - such as energy and agriculture - could reduce water availability in cities by as much as two thirds by 2050, compared to 2015 levels.
Professor Jega Jegatheesan from the School of Engineering is collaborating with researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT M), Mahatma Gandhi University, India, and industry partner Tamilnadu Water Investment Company (TWIC) on a project funded by the Australia-India Council.
Jegatheesan said that the project focused on the management and technology of Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) which involves a range of advanced wastewater treatment technologies to recycle, recover and re-use the treated wastewater, thereby ensuring there is no discharge of wastewater to the environment.
“The textile industry was selected as the model industry as it is one of the major water consumers and subsequently one of the biggest polluters of water bodies that receive effluent from textile mills,” he said.
“Several states in India including Tamilnadu are water stressed. Competing demands for water from agriculture and domestic use has limited industrial growth.
“Most polluting industries such as pharmaceutical, pulp and paper mills, tanneries, textile dyeing, chemical and power plants generate wastewater with high salinity.
“Conventional physico-chemical-biological treatment does not remove salinity in the treated effluent and the discharge of saline and treated wastewater pollutes ground and surface waters.
“TWIC is committed to implement strategies designed to successfully reducing local water scarcity and they are leading the way in implementing ZLD in textile industry in Tamilnadu where it operates.
“This is of major significance for the area as they maintain nine central effluent treatment plants with capacities ranging from 3 to 11 million litres per day (MLD) with a combined capacity of 53 MLD and recycle more than 98 per cent of water and reuse more than 90 per cent of salt.
“TWIC has developed technology involving complete thermal and non-thermal ZLD solutions to manage tough-to-treat wastewaters. By using proprietary evaporators, brine concentrators, and crystallisers the technology can help recover more than 95 per cent of a plant’s wastewater while reducing the remaining brine as a product or solid.”
The research team is currently investigating the applications of membrane in bioreactor to treat the waste water to produce high quality effluent for downstream processes. Introduction of nanofiltration, membrane distillation and crystallisation will provide further improvement on energy savings.
The project is an important step towards effective water management through joint collaboration between India and Australia in the areas of resource utilisation, water purification, membrane technology, ground water management, lake/river remediation and eco-restoration with the intention that some of these research can be introduced in current practices in India to save money, limit risks and provide more options to India to have a sustainable water management program.
Story: Petra van Nieuwenhoven