Sustain and gain
Dunlop Design Engineering are experts in wastewater heat recovery. FM Magazine interviewed managing director, Walton Dunlop, and Arpal Gulf's John Gavigan to discover how industries that use large volumes of water can recover energy and make financial savings.
Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and melting polar glaciers are just some of the climatic changes the world is currently undergoing. Throw in frequent earthquakes and catastrophic tsunamis and the predictions of 'doomsday' mongers begin to sound credible.
"The end is nigh," reads a protester's placard. The planet is now warmer than at any point during the last 1,000 years, and nine of the ten warmest years have occurred during the past decade. Indeed, climatologists estimate global warming has led to the deaths of 150,000 people since 1970.
So what is the international community doing about the situation? In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed. The objective of the Convention is to 'stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will avoid dangerous rates of climate change.'
The Kyoto Protocol which came into force in February 2003 and pitifully omits the United States - the world's largest polluter - requires developed nations to cut emissions by just 5 per cent compared with 1990 levels. This is a tiny first step and the target represents far less than the cuts actually required which are around 80 per cent.
At the corporate level, the response to the climate crisis has been the birth of 'sustainability' as a clearly defined and packaged set of business processes. However, as with nation states, there are huge disparities in the manner and levels of commitment with which companies adopt sustainable practices.
Although the term 'sustainable' is perceived widely to be synonymous with 'environmentally friendly', Walter Dunlop maintains it can mean more:
"When industry takes a scarce resource like water and uses and pollutes it before throwing it away, that is highly irresponsible," he says, explaining how his company protects the environment and saves industrial clients money by "cleaning wastewater and recovering energy."
"Some years ago," recalls Dunlop, "we did some market research and looked at different parts of the world where water was scarce but finance to fund projects was available. The emerging GCC states and United Arab Emirates in particular met our criteria, although we discovered very quickly that if you wish to operate in the Emirates you need a formal business partner. After sounding out colleagues we selected Arpal Gulf. There is synergy between the companies because one of our core areas is the laundry segment and Arpal Gulf supplies chemicals into the sector."
"We have a lot of water technology experience which fits in nicely with water reclamation. Both companies are involved with water treatment and can share knowledge with each other. And as much as water is a peripheral part of our current business, it allows us to add a value proposition to the services we offer to current and potential clients."
"One of our potential clients has said it is criminal not to save water; that it is irresponsible not to look at the benefits that go straight into the 'bottom line' or at how the profitability of your organisation is increasingly based on the principle of looking after the environment," adds Arpal Gulf's John Gavigan.
In Europe there are government initiatives to encourage the implementation of environmentally friendly technologies. How do you plan to overcome the relative absence of such initiatives in developing markets?
"Our experience of Europe is that governments have invested vast sums of money to create awareness within industry about water, energy, heat recover and carbon emissions' reduction. However, I would say they have been ineffective. The only influences on industry, and I am not being cynical, are the direct cost of water and energy," says Dunlop.
"A typical system in the United Kingdom would save 1,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually but nobody is in the slightest bit interested. Industry is only concerned with how such savings will benefit the bottom line."
"However, that is changing. There are a lot of people making the right noises about carbon reduction but it can only work if enforced through government legislation. I just hope the Emirati people and residents here are more responsible than their European counterparts."
How do you propose benchmarking water and energy savings?
"Every system we install has traceability. We measure both the amount of water and the temperature at which it is discharged."
"A computer calculates total Kilowatts generated by our systems and quantifies water savings in cubic litres and carbon dioxide savings in metric tonnes. We can certify readings with a monthly statement if required."
How does heat recovery work in the Middle East?
"Obviously, ground water temperatures are higher in this part of the world. But there is still a tremendous amount of energy used in heating 50 tonnes of water an hour from, say, 45 degrees Centigrade to 85 degrees Centigrade; something which happens in industries such as textile processing. We recover this energy which can amount to some 1,000 tonnes a year using the example of the 50 tonne per hour plant that I mentioned."
How long does a client have to wait to receive a return on their investment?
"In Europe where companies are run largely by accountants, it is a fact of life that nobody will buy something that has a payback period of more than two years. Sometimes, if we are dealing with a visionary company, we can stretch this period to three years. Given that the equipment lasts between ten and twenty years that, to me, is still a very short-term attitude."
"European working hours are a factor, however. In the United Kingdom most people work a 40 hour week, in France it is 30 hours, and the Germans usually work 37 hours."
"By contrast, across the GCC, manufacturing businesses operate on a 24-hour basis for seven days a week which reduces the typical payback period to less than a year."
Would you normally become involved at the design or operational phase of a facility?
"We are a process engineering firm and design instinctively. Property development is a target market of ours but we have not looked at it yet, although the concepts and principles are exactly the same."
"We focus purely on industrial wastewater so any organisation that takes in large quantities of fresh water - typically this includes laundries and textile factories - is a potential client. The only challenge we face in the UAE relates to the cost of water since it is subsidised heavily by the government and people simply do not realise how precious and expensive a resource it really is."
"Nevertheless, such large volumes of water are used that our technologies will still deliver a payback even if we ignore the energy aspect. I therefore believe grey water recovery has a tremendous future here."
"And we are forever fine-tuning our installations in the GCC market since water is forecast to run out at current population and industrial growth rates."
What would you like to say to governments or property developers about how your solutions will benefit the environment?
"We believe governments should introduce legislation mandating the use of water recycling within the region's construction industry, since people simply do not take the topic seriously otherwise."
"Moreover, if design consultants and property developers were made aware that these technologies exist and also realised the cost savings associated with water recycling and energy recovery, this would impact significantly on their profitability."