25 january 2017
Interview Jean-François Nogrette
CEO of Veolia Water Technologies
What are Veolia Water Technologies’ goals for the next two years?
The past few years have presented many challenges for Veolia Water Technologies, with a market that has been rapidly changing, and we ourselves also need to change and adapt.
As Veolia Water Technologies, our wealth is obviously made of our technologies and we will keep capitalizing on them, improving them and developing new ones. We want to simplify our portfolio of technologies, making them available faster and at a more competitive price point. We are also looking into digitalization of some of our standard equipment.
Another key point for us is to further develop our bundled services, including our mobile water services, traceability for specific regulations, digital functions, etc. There is a strong demand for these types of services and we want to better capitalize on that through our local teams.
We are still relying on our strong design and engineering capabilities to secure some big design-andbuild contracts, for instance for desalination plants in the Middle East, municipal water and wastewater treatment plants in Europe, Africa and Asia, and industrial projects in North and South America.
What are some factors you see impacting the water technology market in the coming years?
Over the next twenty years, the middle classes will grow from one to three billion people. By 2050, it is expected that 70% of the world population will live in an urban environment. This could mean up to double the amount of people living in towns and cities around the world, straining local resources and concentrating pollution and waste.
Climate change is causing a more frequent number of natural disasters that are taking an ever heavier human and material toll. 2015 set a series of record temperatures: on a global scale, according to recent reports from NASA and the UN, the average temperatures in 2015 have been the highest ever recorded on the earth’s surface.
These factors will cause unprecedented pressure on water sources and other natural resources. Successfully facing these challenges will require innovations and a new way of thinking, working and consuming. We are being forced to call traditional concepts into question.
The current mobilization of all stakeholders on the crucial issue of climate change is unprecedented. This context is a great opportunity to invent together a more responsible and less carbon-intensive economy, advocating for a new use of resources. The fight against climate change can be a source of value creation.
We hear a lot about the circular economy; why is it so important to include water in it, and why has it not really been considered as a vital part in the past?
As I said, demand for raw materials, including water, is exploding as a result of demographic growth, rising living standards and climate change. As we are all aware, we cannot endlessly draw on the natural environment – a number of shortages are already making themselves felt and the growth model based on linear consumption (extract-usethrow away) has reached its limits.
Scarcity of raw materials, scarcity of water, carbon footprint: these are huge challenges facing our world today. The management of environmental issues is becoming increasingly important and complex in both rapidly developing and developed countries.
Access to water is a key factor in the growth of entire economies, cities and many different industries. Today, on a worldwide scale, barely 2% of wastewater is reused: that remaining 98% of wastewater represents a valuable and readily available resource that we must tap into. Wastewater also has the tremendous advantage of being available where water is needed.
The whole point of the circular economy is to give back value to things that had lost their value which of course applies to water and wastewater. When scarcity strikes, the circular economy allows economic players not only to secure their supplies, but also to reduce their expenditure and create additional revenue. This approach does not arise exclusively from environmental concerns; for the regions, it is a factor in their development and for businesses, it is a source of competitiveness and wealth.
How can water technologies be adapted to address the issue of climate change?
We are in a period of witnessing the development of renewable energies, but some of them, such as solar energy or wind power, have one serious flaw: they only produce electricity intermittently. On the other hand, heat recovered from sewer systems delivers a permanent and continuous source of energy. This is why energy service providers are paying more and more attention to this alternative.
Methane is 80 times more damaging to the climate than CO2 . Calculated over a period of 20 years, methane represents 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, methane can be captured and used to produce heat and electricity, transforming this pollutant gas into green energy. Wastewater treatment activities can produce a lot of methane which can be repurposed to produce renewable energy through biogas, quickly producing positive effects.
Obviously, sludge offers a lot of potential as far as energy production goes and it is viewed more and more as a valuable resource to capitalize on rather than a waste that needs to be discarded. The latest technologies using thermal hydrolysis, for instance, concentrate the matter to be treated, reducing the volume to be heated. The end result is 20 to 40% more biogas produced than by using conventional digestion, and up to 50% more capacity for existing digesters.
We are seeing more and more selfsufficient wastewater treatment plants starting-up all around the world. With the optimization of technologies and associated services in the years to come, this trend will only accelerate and hopefully become the new normal.
Can you give some examples of corporations and collectivities which are changing the way they approach water and wastewater treatment?
Improving water management in industrial processes has become one of the major aims of a growing number of company heads. They are gradually becoming aware of the risks of an industrial failure linked to blue gold that could seriously impact their company’s operating results.
Nestlé, for instance, has reduced its water consumption globally by one third during the past 10 years and by 50% at its plants in Mexico, even while global production has increased. Thanks to a Veolia process, the company’s Lagos de Moreno dairy plant became the first of Nestlé’s Zero Water plants, which means it no longer extracts any water from natural resources in this region of Mexico which suffers from water stress.
Antero Resources, one of the top ten producers of natural gas in the United States, is another company that is proactively addressing water consumption by using Veolia patented technologies to build a $275-million centralized water treatment facility to treat and recycle the produced water from its shale oil and gas operations. This will enable Antero to realize substantial savings while reducing its environmental footprint.
Municipalities all around the world are also taking steps to increase their resilience. Copenhagen, for instance, has installed an electronic system to make better use of existing canals and infrastructure to reduce flooding in case of heavy rain, which has reduced the amount of flooding by 80 percent.
Durban, one of the driest cities in South Africa, is managing the supply of drinking water to ensure priority is given to the city’s residents. The Durban Water Recycling plant supplies the city's industries with recycled, cost-effective water of sufficient quality to be used in manufacturing processes. 98% of the city's wastewater is now recycled and 40,000 cubic meters of additional drinking water are supplied daily to the people of Durban.