The scarcity of water is growing into an ever bigger problem.
— New, sustainable solutions for securing water supplies and for more effective water usage these days are more precious than gold, explains Senior Researcher Mona Arnold.
Water consumption has risen threefold over the last 50 years.
— Consumption has increased twice as fast as population growth. Most water is used for agriculture and food production, but industry is also a major consumer, Arnold continues.
— Individual homes account for just eight percent of total consumption, although figures vary from country to country. The USA heads the list, using nearly 600 litres per day, while average consumption by an individual home in Mozambique is just four litres per day. The average Finnish user consumes 155 litres of water per day.
Too much or too little
The most common source of drinking water is ground water, excessive consumption of which is a phenomenon in both industrialized and developing countries. Because more ground water is used than is replenished, the quality deteriorates and resources dry up. In large cities such as Mexico City, Bangkok, Beijing, Shanghai and Manila, ground water occurrences have dropped from ten metres to 50 metres.
— Climate change makes the situation worse as extreme weather conditions become more common. The quantity of water does not change, but bad drought conditions become more common as do rain storms and floods. At a local level there is either too much water or too little, Arnold says.
Finland is one of the leading countries when it comes to clean water.
— We have abundant, high quality water supplies. There are few countries where the surface water is so good that it can be used as drinking water. Good quality water reserves have allowed the development of water-intensive industrial production and this has also brought with it a development in water technology.
For water-intensive process industries, the availability of clean water is both a central issue and a cost factor.
— The challenges related to obtaining water as well as the opportunities that water technology offers are global, Arnold emphasizes.
Arnold heads Green Solutions for Water and Waste (GWW), the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland spearhead programme, around half of the projects of which are linked to water treatment, monitoring and sustainable consumption. The aim is to provide energy saving technologies and systems including those for water purification and re-use.
— The goal of industry is to significantly reduce the water footprint of its own products. New trends in water treatment include the so-called zero energy solutions or even solutions that actually generate energy, management systems for large water networks as well as new sources of water.
According to Arnold, Finland is renowned for the quality of its energy efficiency. The opportunities to achieve a similar reputation for water efficiency are also bright.
— In water treatment chemicals and water technology development, for example, we have global expertise. To an ever increasing degree, we could also utilize our IT competence in the development of monitoring and smart water solutions.
Clean water more precious than gold