Without water, everything is nothing

We only need water for drinking, cooking and washing, right? Not even close! Water is in everything around us – from paper to clothes, computers and cars. Do you know how much water runs through your hands every day without you knowing it?

Source: iStock/greenaperture

Invisible water

In the morning, the alarm goes off. We get up, get a shower, brush our teeth and make coffee. We need water for all of these activities. Drinking water. Each German consumes around 122 liters per day in his/her household – in a global comparison, Germany is slightly below the average. Even when the tap is turned off, the “virtual water meter” continues to run.

Virtual consumption

Almost everything we use in our daily life requires water in its manufacturing process – the shower curtain, towels, clothes, toothbrushes, mobile phones. Even the food we eat cannot be produced without water. Including this “virtual water”, the per capita consumption in Germany is around 3,900 liters – every day. This corresponds to 30 bathtubs full of water which are invisible in our daily lives – in espresso, jeans, food, computers, cars and much more.

Source: iStock/Tuayai
Source: iStock/Simon Lehmann

On the trail of water

Most of the time we are not consciously aware that our food, mobile phones or the fabric for our clothes do not appear out of nowhere as the finished product. If you want to eat meat, you have to farm animals, and they need water and feed. The feed must be grown, watered, harvested and processed. The animals’ stables must be cleaned. Water is also required for the cleaning during the further processing of the meat in the slaughterhouse, as well as during the cooling and the packaging.

This involves a long production chain for almost every product, with many links in this chain requiring water – even for products that you would never imagine. But where is this water hidden and how much is there exactly?

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The industry is “thirsty”

Modern society needs immense amounts of water – not just for manufacturing products. In 2013, for example, more than 26,000 million m³ of water were used in German industry across all production areas. This amount corresponds to approximately 270,000 soccer fields, with a 10-meter-high column of water on each of the fields.

Almost half of this amount (47 percent) was used for energy supply. Compared to this, the manufacturing industry consumed only 15 percent. The chemical industry alone needed half of this (8 percent).

Water is a precious resource and its treatment is a complex process. The industry is therefore continually trying to reduce its water consumption. Since 2000, it has halved its water consumption through the use of more efficient methods and technology, as well as the reuse of water (in the best-case scenario in closed cycles)

  • In the manufacturing industry, the use of water fell by almost 30 percent.
  • In the chemical industry, 36 percent less water was used.
  • Compared to this, private households reduced their water consumption by a mere 8 percent.

Water consumption varies between poor and wealthy countries

Water is not uniformly distributed on this earth, as a result consumption levels vary. However, geography is not the only decisive factor here. Average income also plays a role. In countries with low to medium average incomes, for example, agriculture consumes about 85 percent of the water available, while industry accounts for a maximum of 10 percent. Households here only consume up to 8 percent.

In countries with high average incomes, however, the share from agriculture decreases significantly. In Germany, for example, only 0.1 percent of the total water consumption flows into agriculture, while water for use in agriculture makes up around 70 percent in a global comparison.

High incomes allow water to flow into the industry

Countries with high average incomes are increasingly using their water resources for the industry. The share of industrial consumption in these countries already amount to around 60 percent. With the industrialization of developing countries, a further increase in global water consumption is expected (forecast 2025: 1,170 km3).

Water for all?

According to UNESCO, most of the world’s population has access to clean water. Two thirds of it live in households or on land with a water supply. However, around 750 million people still have no permanent access to clean water.

The World’s population and the access to water

Sources: Wikipedia, DWA 2016

96 percent of water is not imbibed

The use of water in private households is closely linked to the standard of living. In German households, most of the drinking water is used for personal hygiene and toilet flushing. Only 4 percent of the 122 liters per person per day (2015) are drunk and used for food preparation.

 

Use of drinking water in German households per activity (in %)

Source: BDEW 2016

“The supply of clean drinking water is technologically challenging. German manufacturers of water treatment and wastewater plants are able to react flexibly and quickly to the respective regional needs.”

Richard ClemensManaging Director VDMA Process Plant and Equipment

Water – a valuable resource taken for granted

Although there is enough water in the world, access to it is not always a matter of course. To ensure the availability of drinking and process water in the future, the mechanical engineering sector is developing solutions to recycle the liquid resource.

Wastewater – the evil twin of drinking water

There is no water consumption without wastewater. The more we consume, the more water needs to be reconditioned. As pollution levels increase, so do the requirements for wastewater treatment. To this end, the mechanical engineering industry has developed some effective concepts.

Where does the water in Germany come from?

We simply have to turn on the tap and we have as much water as we could wish for – in Germany, the tap never runs dry.

We owe this luxury to a complex infrastructure, progressive technology and a wealth of expertise in the field of water extraction, water treatment and water distribution.

The water available in Germany comes from various places. In 2013, more than 5 billion m3 was extracted from various sources.

 

Water extraction per water source (in %)

Source: Statistisches Bundesamt

Water is mankind’s most basic foodstuff, so its quality and origin are strictly monitored.

The EU’s Drinking Water Directive therefore obliges the member states to submit a report on the quality of their drinking water to the EU Commission every three years. The latest assessment takes the period from 2011 to 2013 into account and shows that the quality of drinking water in Germany is excellent. The data presented in this report shows that at least 99% of the drinking water samples have met the requirements and limits for the microbiological and chemical quality parameters – for many of these parameters it was as high as 99.9 percent to 100 percent of the samples.

Wastewater – the evil twin of drinking water

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Water is life, water is change

The world’s water moves in a closed cycle. This means that the amount of water always remains the same and it only changes its physical state when it “disappears”. So why does is there suddenly not enough in one place, whilst there is too much of it elsewhere?

How do we guarantee water in the future?

The world’s population is growing steadily. At the same time, the climate is in a state of change. This results in changes to both the regional and global conditions of water supply and its use. Unfortunately, a single solution for a permanently secure water supply does not exist.

However, technologies and concepts exist today that preserve the state of the natural environment and develop alternative forms of water supply, like seawater desalination or the extraction of drinking water from the air.

This modern desalination plant supplies a Caribbean island with water. Source: Shutterstock/Jo Ann Snover
Fresh water can also be obtained by reverse osmosis (desalination through different concentrations and pressures). Source: Shutterstock/Zern Liew

“Harvesting” water from the air in the desert?

The idea of extracting water from the air is nothing new. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, have now developed a mobile device that can extract water from atmospheric moisture and thus can possibly help to combat water scarcity in many regions, including deserts, in the future. The system even works in very dry air with only 20 percent humidity. Sunlight is sufficient as the energy source.

The heart of the presented prototype is an organometallic compound, MOF (Metal-Organic Framework), made of zirconium, a hydrogen-oxygen compound and the salt of fumaric acid. The microcrystalline powder provides an extremely large number of pores and thus a very large surface area, which can be used to bind moisture from the air. The warmth of the sunlight ensures that the water leaves the metal-organic sponge as a vapor and eventually collects on a condenser surface, from where it runs into a container. In the test, the researchers were able to extract 2.8 liters of water with a kilogram of MOF within a twelve-hour-period.

Zirconium is a non-toxic heavy metal that is extremely resistant to corrosion. Source: Shutterstock/beejung

Particularly in the industrial sector, the focus lies predominantly on topics of closed cycles and water reuse (water recycling). The recovery of energy and recyclable materials from process and wastewater will also be a major task in the future – since water is becoming more and more important.

The recovery of water also offers opportunities for a sustainable and reliable water supply for industry and municipalities. This applies, in particular, to cities that are increasingly dependent on water from far off locations and/or on alternative sources of water in order to meet the growing demand.

With the appropriate infrastructure, the mechanical and plant engineering sector provides the technology to exploit the full range of possibilities for a future with sufficient water for all – from more efficient processing, to a zero-loss distribution, all the way to the development of new water sources.

“Harvesting” water from the air in the desert?

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The world’s water resources

Water moves in a closed cycle on this earth. This means that the amount of water always remains the same, but its physical state can change. Only a small proportion of the world’s water is fresh, and about two thirds of it is not directly usable for humans.

1.4

billion

cubic kilometers of water on earth.

30

percent

of the fresh water is available on the ground.

2.5

percent

is fresh water (35 million cubic kilometers).

97.5

percent

is salt water. According to this only a tiny fraction of the world´s water resources is freshwater.

0.3

percent

of fresh water reserves are available to people in the form of lakes, wetlands and rivers.

70

percent

of the fresh water is bound in glaciers, as permanent ice or snow cover or is permafrost.

“Water is a friendly element for those who are familiar with it and know how to treat it.”

J. W. von Goethe

Authors

Peter Gebhart

Manager, Process Plant and Equipment Association within VDMA

With a degree in Business Administration, he began his career at DECHEMA Gesellschaft für Chemische Technik und Biotechnologie e. V. (Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology). Peter Gebhart has been a Specialist at VDMA since 2009. Since 2013, he has been responsible for the Recooling Technology Group as well as the Water and Wastewater Technology Group in the Process Plant and Equipment Association.

Monika Mages

Manager, Process Plant and Equipment Association within VDMA

Monika Mages has been Marketing Manager within Process Plant and Equipment Association within VDMA since 1994. She is responsible for mechanical process technologies within the association.

Water and more

Here you can find out more about the many facets of the topic of water – from water supply to extraction, treatment, distribution and use all the way to the treatment of wastewater. Are you curious? Then read on …

“Water 2050. More Sustainability Through System Solutions”

Based on real innovations, the book shows how the economy can meet the challenges of water supply and waste disposal and at the same time profit economically.

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Der Wasseratlas (the water atlas)

The German edition of the “Weltatlas zur wichtigsten Ressource des Lebens” (world atlas on the most important source of life) is informative and gives food for thought at the same time. The “Wasseratlas” draws a comprehensive picture of the state of the water on our planet.

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All about drinking water

The brochure of the Germany Environment Agency contains information on the origin and protection of drinking water as well as advice for its sensible consumption.

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The waterwastewatertechnology.info portal

Here you will find information on important topics dealt with by suppliers of water technology equipment. You can also find lists of suppliers and their products.

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Water flows

Here you can find the answers to the questions: How much water flows into Germany? How does it flow? How and who uses this water? How does this water leave the country?

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