Water as a Renewable Resource
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Kemira is a multinational two billion euro Finnish chemicals company servicing various water-intensive industries. The company offers both qualitative and quantitative management solutions to improve clients’ energy, water and raw material efficiency. With operations spanning the paper, oil, mining, municipal, industrial and chemical products sectors, Kemira has developed a reputation as one of the leading industrial water cycle management companies in the world.
In an exclusive interview with Energy Digital, Kemira President and CEO Harri Kerminen discusses the crucial role that responsible water cycle management will play in coming decades.
What challenges do you see the world facing in regard to water cycle management in coming decades, especially considering variables such as population increase, and reduced availability of naturally occurring potable water? How will Kemira address such challenges?
Water scarcity will be increasingly an issue. By 2050 the need for fresh water will increase by 100 percent. By 2030 the gap between the supply and demand for water will be 40 percent. Solving it will require new technologies and combinations of technologies. Current technologies will not be enough. This is one reason why Kemira has established SWEET–Center of Water Efficiency Excellence together with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and other partners.
What is your perspective on the dangers threatening water supplies in our pursuit of energy security, such as nuclear waste as seen in the Japan crisis, oil spills as witnessed in BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, and natural gas shale hydraulic fracturing?
Incidents like Gulf of Mexico and Fukushima are serious issues for water contamination. The latest incidents tell that we need to increasingly make sure that we work safely and with high tech solutions in order to preent these from happening.
On the other hand, if something happens, we need to have a better readiness to act fast and efficiently to minimize consequences to people and nature. For instance, it would be good if water technology companies would unite forces to investigate what are the best practices to treat radioactive water.
Hydraulic fracturing needs to be conducted in a safe way that will not contaminate nature. Kemira can help in decreasing the amount of water used and enabling the reuse of water in the process.
Can technology save us from these dangers, or is increased conservation the solution? Can a balance between the two be achieved?
Conservation is needed for emergency situations. But mistakes can happen. We have to be able to develop more advanced technological solutions to help us in the future if something happens. Risk evaluation is critical for judging where the limit is for what kind of operations can be allowed.
What are some worst-case scenarios if drinkable water production doesn’t meet population growth trends fast enough?
India is already witnessing this. The population grows faster than the surrounding infrastructure. Wastewater is not cleaned adequately and thus contaminates the potable water. This leads to high mortality and diseases in countries that cannot control their population growth.
What role will water play in promoting next generation fuels—such as hydrogen, algae biofuels, etc.—and how is Kemira positioning itself to take advantage of these emerging markets?
Algae biofuels are interesting for us. We are researching it. Water plays a major role in the next generation fuels. This could open, in the long-term, totally new opportunities for Kemira.
How has the economic situation in recent years affected the industry?
It has slowed down the growth of the industry, caused profitability problems and that chemical industry is increasingly moving to China.
Are there any exciting projects recently or in the works that are unique to Kemira, perhaps utilizing advanced and/or proprietary technologies?
We are working with many new projects within the SWEET program, but they are still in an early phase and we cannot disclose the details. The three main areas of SWEET are water reuse, biomass utilization and sustainable chemistry. We are very interested in working with universities, research institutes and other companies to innovate. Innovations usually happen in the crossroads of different disciplines.
What are some trends you are noticing in the industry?
Making potable water out of wastewater—reuse of wastewater—creating as closed a water loop as possible in industry to minimize the intake of water.
If you were gone tomorrow, what is the one message you would want to leave to the world?
Our planet is precious. Take care of it.