Asia is heading towards a colossal shortage of water.
Currently home to 4.5 billion people who already use two thirds of the world’s supply, the region has less freshwater per capita than any continent on earth.
Around 30 percent of Asia’s population are already facing water scarcity, and a recent study by the IIASA Water Program identifies rapid socioeconomic development as a major contributing factor to a situation that is expected to intensify in coming decades.
However, with consumer demand soaring and an increasing need for innovative ways to reuse and preserve water, the industry is both lively and lucrative.
“Many countries and cities in the region are increasingly becoming highly populated, and some of these territories’ economies are growing rapidly,” explains Mark Elliott, Commercial Director for Veolia Water Technologies, Asia Municipal.
“In many places, government agencies are in the early stages of developing infrastructure – e.g. drainage systems and wastewater treatment plants – to improve sanitation and water supply systems to meet demands. This translates to huge market potential in these territories.
“The shortage of freshwater resources for drinking water is indeed another factor, affected by capacity limitations or quality issues such as saline intrusion. This is driving interest in reuse schemes.”
Elliott and Veolia are industry stalwarts. Established in Asia for more than 35 years, Veolia Water Technologies provides unique water, wastewater, and reclaim solutions, from process design to complete turnkey installation and operation services for municipal and industrial customers.
The firm is bolstered by 350 proprietary technologies which can be customised and applied to client needs across numerous industries, including food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and oil & gas.
“I enjoy seeing things built – to see how various aspects of the design and building process come together, to produce an infrastructure that will stand for decades,” Elliott says. “I believe the water industry is one that genuinely touches people, improves lives, and safeguards our environment.”
Elliott has been with Veolia since 2001, joining the Company in Kuala Lumpur from Siemens Water UK, this having started at United Utilities as a graduate engineer.
“Ever since joining Veolia, I have had the opportunity to grow and develop not just the Southeast Asia market, but also the Chinese market and parts of South Asia,” he continues. “The continent is very fast-moving and diverse.
“In addition, the scale of projects in the region can be quite large, due to the stage of development and population growth in some of these cities, and we are also bringing water to small towns for the first time. Many of the projects I have worked on also required me to be innovative about the way we integrate the plant with existing infrastructure in the community.”
Finite global resources, growing populations and increasing urbanisation are placing pressure on governing authorities and private enterprises to come up with ways of using these resources more efficiently.
Elliott highlights water reuse as a trend gathering pace, with plant owners and operators seeking a combination of treatment technologies to meet their reuse needs without incurring significant cost or complexity.
He points to countries like China, Singapore, and Malaysia as examples of nations looking into water reuse extensively.
“Veolia was at the forefront of water reuse in Singapore, successfully building early reuse plants in Bedok and Kranji,” he says. “In addition, we are in the final stages of construction at the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) in Kuala Lumpur, where almost all used water will be converted for reuse within the development for non-potable purposes.
“At TRX, rather than disposing of treated wastewater to the environment, the treated reuse water is to be sold back to the commercial and domestic residents at a discount to the cost of city water – an option that is both economically attractive and globally more sustainable.”
Another trend Elliott identifies is a demand for compact solutions that take up less space and can be integrated easily into existing setups. With more demand coming from densely populated city areas, rural water treatment plants are not as common as they once were.
In terms of drinking water treatment, solutions are increasingly being driven by extreme climate conditions like droughts, storms and floods.
“These climate conditions often present challenges to classical drinking water treatment plants, as the quality of raw water is affected and can vary significantly within a short timeframe,” explains Elliott.
“Technologies like Veolia’s ACTIFLO and MULTIFLO are high-density short residence processes that can respond swiftly to such changing conditions. This ensures that plants can continue to operate in a stable condition during sudden changes and maintain water supplies for distribution.”
Water companies are also looking to digitisation as a means of operating more efficiently, the advent of industry 4.0 propelling automation and smart working to the top of many boardroom agendas.
Digital technologies can help address an array of complexities and challenges, including reducing operational costs and capital expenditures, minimising manual maintenance and costly downtime or non-compliant events, and obtaining a coherent view of operating status with information diffused across multiple sources at any time.
“With the aim of addressing these challenges, Veolia offers a digital platform, AQUAVISTA, which provides plant personnel with a monitoring tool to efficiently control connected plants and water treatment equipment,” says Elliott.
“The data received from the plants is then aggregated and secured on the cloud. The AQUAVISTA portal provides real-time remote monitoring of equipment data, dynamic alarm management, and information for operators, leading to improvements in efficiency and productivity. In addition, the AQUAVISTA also provides benchmarking and suggestions for process optimisation.”
Elliott also points towards how Veolia is seeking to engage stakeholders at all levels in addressing water challenges. Water metric tools like the True Cost of Water (TCOW) and Water Impact Index (WiiX) have helped increase awareness of these issues, and collaboration between parties will only help Veolia to provide relevant answers.
Elliott concludes: “Our focus is on treatment technologies and value-added services. We are looking to work in partnership with local stakeholders and focus on what we do best, which is enable ground-breaking facilities to be delivered.”