Design approach for the improvement of the economic and environmental performances of potable water supply

Triggered by the Kyoto Protocol and by the aggravation of freshwater scarcity, environmental impacts should soon become key decision criteria for the planning of potable water supply projects, especially when advanced systems such as seawater desalination are at stake. In order to foster the transition of the water industry towards sustainable practices, the present work proposes an integrated design approach dedicated to potable water supply that targets both economic and environmental objectives. At first, the current industrial practices (Chapter I) and the technical characteristics of potable water supply systems (Chapter II) are analyzed via the modeling of the process units used for potable water supply: pumping systems, conventional water treatment processes (e.g. clarification, filtration, disinfection) and advanced water treatment processes (e.g. membrane processes, thermal processes). Using the ISO 14040 standardized Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) method, Chapter III presents the development of a performance indicator that assesses the environmental impacts generated through all stages of the life cycle of potable water supply (i.e. from "cradle to grave"): from the construction of the potable water treatment plant, to its operation and decommissioning. This LCA-based indicator provides a holistic overview of all potential environmental impacts (e.g. green house gases (GHG) emissions, impacts on ecosystems and on human health). It allows to stress out the impact sources and the penalizing steps within potable water supply (Chapter IV): The production of electricity and chemicals required by the potable water treatment plant is highlighted to generate respectively 75% and 15% of the total impacts generated during the life cycle of potable water supply. Different potable water supply scenarios (e.g. potable water supply from ground water, from surface water, seawater desalination, water import from distant water resources) are benchmarked, in order to identify the best solutions as a function of the local context (e.g. type of electricity supply, topographic conditions, feed water quality). Based on the results of the environmental assessment, Chapter V proposes measures for the improvement of the industrial practices of the water sector, targeting energy and chemicals management, electricity sourcing and effluent disposal. Within the same perspective, Chapter VI details an optimization method for the design of the reverse osmosis (RO) membrane process, i.e. the key treatment process for desalination and wastewater reclamation. This method systematically synthesizes RO process configurations and evaluates their performances on economical (total annualized costs), technical (energy requirement, water conversion rate) and environmental criteria (GHG emissions). Evolutionary algorithms are then used to optimize the design of these configurations (process layout and operating conditions) and to identify those featuring the best trade-offs between economical costs and environmental impacts. As case study, the optimization method is applied on a brackish water reverse osmosis (BWRO) desalination project. The characteristics of the optimal BWRO process configurations are calculated as a function of the project constraints (e.g. economical and technical settings, minimum potable water quality), in order to illustrate how this method may support process engineers for the design of desalination plants.


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