World Water Day 2022 – Aurubis Beerse and Sibelco test new method to recycle and reuse waste water

Beerse | Tuesday, March 22, 2022

World Water Day is an annual United Nations event that started in 1993 and focuses on the importance of water. The theme of World Water Day 2022 is groundwater. Most of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater, supporting drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and ecosystems. Groundwater will play a critical role in adapting to climate change. We need to work together to sustainably manage this precious resource. Groundwater may be out of sight, but it must not be out of mind.

As an Industrial company, Aurubis Beerse consumes a significant amount of ground water on an annual basis. For us, focusing on handling our water sustainably is of the highest importance. Together with our long-time partner Sibelco, we installed a pilot plant on our water purification plant to test if Sibelco’s new heavy metals removal technology could help us in taking next steps in the circular approach of our waste water. So far the results look promising. By doing research with this technology, we proactively search for a continuously improving waste water quality and hope to significantly decrease our ground water usage through water reuse.

Karen Van Dyck, water treatment specialist at Aurubis Beerse is co-leading the pilot for Aurubis and dives into some detail in the interview below.

Karen Van Dyck, water specialist Aurubis Beerse

Why is the focus on ground water so important?
Almost all the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater. Life would not be possible without it. Groundwater supplies a large proportion of the water we use for drinking, sanitation, food production and industrial processes. It is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers. Overexploitation of groundwater can lead to land instability and subsidence.

So far we were able to bring down the share of groundwater use in Beerse from 67% in 2018 to 30% in 2020 and 2021 thanks to our ultrafiltration installation. As a company we are continuously growing, and this requires a detailed analysis and continuous monitoring of the impact of this growth on our water footprint. Subsequently, we seek for solutions to mitigate the impact as much as possible and follow up on available technologies to improve where possible. For example, when we constructed our new parking lot, we opted for a ‘wadi’, this provides a delayed re-infiltration of rainwater to deeper layers in the ground.

What is ground water? And where does Aurubis Beerse uses this?
Groundwater is water found underground in aquifers, which are geological formations of rocks, sands and gravels that hold substantial quantities of water. It feeds springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and seeps into oceans. Groundwater is recharged mainly from rain and snowfall infiltrating the ground and can be extracted to the surface by pumps and wells.

In Beerse, we use pre-conditioned groundwater for various applications: In our cooling circuits, our electrolysis and in the spraying systems that are installed to decrease the dust on our recycling materials yard. 

What is the pilot plant about and what could be the result?
As mentioned above, we first focused on ultrafiltration which allowed us to use canal water, which is less precious, next to groundwater. This decreased our ecological impact. Now we are looking for methods to recycle and reuse water as much as possible. The more we reuse, the less groundwater we consume.

The pilot plant is treating part of our wastewater in parallel with our physicochemical treatment of wastewater. Beerse already amply respects the strict water standards today, but if the results of the pilot plant are significantly better than our physicochemical plant, this would mean that we can take another step in managing our water sustainably. Within Aurubis Group, we aim to cut specific metal emissions to water by another 25% by 2030. We have the ambition to produce with the smallest environmental footprint in the sector. In the future we could use the Blueguard filtration media in a purification step after physicochemical treatment or as a pretreatment for membrane technology to reuse our wastewater.

Blueguard® is a patented, mineral based granular filtration media developed by Sibelco to sustainably remove heavy metals from (industrial) wastewater.  Sibelco is currently investigating techno-economic feasibility for scale-up in collaboration with Aurubis Beerse.  The overall environmental foot-print of Blueguard® based on heavy metal removal in the processes is expected to be lower than conventional methods such as chemical precipitation or ion-exchange resin treatment.  

Sibelco is a global leader in material solutions. Sibelco mines, processes and sells specialty industrial minerals – particularly silica, clays, feldspathics and olivine – and is a leader in glass recycling. Sibelco’s solutions support the progress of modern life and serve industries as diverse as glass, ceramics, construction, coatings, polymers and water purification.