Guideline to improve agro-processing water efficiency

17th March 2023 By: Leah Shelene Asaram - Features Reporter

Guideline to improve agro-processing water efficiency

LINDANI NCWANE By acting on the recommendations in the guideline, a company can expect lower cost solutions compared to treating, processing and consuming raw water and/or wastewater

The National Cleaner Production Centre of South Africa (NCPC-SA) has created an Industrial Water Efficiency Guideline following its assessment of water efficiency between 2013 and 2020 in the agro-processing sector. A review of 92 assessment reports indicated that 38 of the assessments related to the food processing subsector.

NCPC-SA project manager Lindani Ncwane says the guidelines were created to “restore hope [to mitigate] South Africa’s water crisis by making small changes that generate a big impact”.

“A key requirement in creating the guideline was to assist food processing companies in fostering good awareness of water management issues in the workplace and encouraging continued proactive participation.”

The key focus areas of the guideline in – but not limited to – the food processing subsector comprise of stopping water losses and improving housekeeping, operational change, recovering condensate, harvesting rainwater and reusing water.

Ncwane says some causes of water inefficiency include water leaks, steam leaks, cooling tower leaks, blow-down, leaking drums and evaporation.

One of the most important impacts of water losses will be increased operating costs that lead, in turn, to lower company profitability. This could result in a company’s having an increased risk of being unsustainable, which may result in some or all production units having to close down.

By following the guideline, the main benefits of fixing water and steam losses will allow for financial savings for a company, as well as improved health and safety conditions of staff.

In terms of operational change, process equipment – such as motors, cooling towers, boilers, compressors, chillers and process gears, which use or handle large quantities of water – may clog up because of dust and/or bird droppings or get damaged owing to ultraviolet rays.

This can lead to an overall increase in operational costs, which will negatively impact on the company’s profitability.

Ncwane adds that if the guideline is used accurately, companies will incur improved financial profitability and sustainability, in addition to being a responsible corporate citizen.

Further, condensate that is not recovered results in water losses. In addition, condensate will retain heat and treatment chemicals. Therefore, if condensate is not recovered and reused, it leads to increased fresh make-up water costs.

He says by acting on the premise of the guideline, a company can expect lower cost solutions compared to treating, processing and consuming raw water and/or wastewater. It will also be more environment-friendly and less wastewater will be discharged.

Rainwater harvesting is uncommon in many companies, especially in cases where relatively cheap potable water is still available in the short term.

Following the guideline will allow for a company to save water, which, in turn, will cover any investment costs, with environmental and financial benefits, while operational water costs will decrease proportionate to water cost savings, adds Ncwane.

Additionally, the benefits of reusing water will result in reduced municipal potable water costs, wastewater outflows and associated costs, as well as a reduced water footprint and improved environmental impact. It will also ensure increased operational efficiency, sustainability and production capacity.

Guideline Curation

Ncwane says the NCPC-SA invested about R210 000 in the sector review study of the Agro-processing sector, which began in October 2021, and in creating the guideline, which was launched in May 2022.

Since its launch, the guideline has appealed to various companies in the industry, with a client having implemented various key focus areas at its facilities, such as harvesting rainwater and having reported a "tremendous” reduction in its water bill, Ncwane enthuses.

He says the only challenges that NCPC-SA encountered in creating the guideline was during the assessment phase: “There is a lot of back and forth when it comes to acquiring data – especially if one is trying to understand the water crisis in a specific industry. The NCPC-SA needed to obtain accurate and credible data to create a detailed and helpful guideline that works for all companies within the industry.”

In addition, NCPC-SA has also developed a guideline, titled the Monitoring and Metering Guide, which was created in collaboration with its partner, the International Finance Corporation, to assist companies that struggle to manage metering systems.

This guideline was launched in July last year and acts as a ‘partner guide’ to the Industrial Water Efficiency Guideline for the food-processing subsector.

Improving water efficiency and reducing water losses is an ongoing process that requires due attention, with efforts – such as ongoing staff training, awareness initiatives, the continuation of proactive actions, installing rainwater harvesting infrastructure, and maintenance – ultimately contributing to water efficiency.

Ncwane says it is “mandatory for South Africa to make changes where possible”, amid growing negative factors such as floods, droughts and climate change. In addition, to further improve water efficiency in the country, all companies in South Africa need to cooperate to ensure water efficiency with the local supply and then look towards initiating advanced technology.