Navigating the water treatment industry may feel like driving before GPS. You know where you want to go, but getting there often leads to dead ends, u-turns, and of course a few fights with your passenger that is trying to help navigate.
The reason the industry can be challenging to navigate is that we often buy from each other, we often compete with one another, but also support and respect one another. As a water treatment company since our founding in 1957, we are frequently asked questions ranging from "Who else can I buy this from?" to "Will you come onsite to provide technical training?"
We love these questions because rather than rushing to sell a product, we found it is more valuable to ensure there is a good long term fit between us and a prospect. Our goal of this article is to provide you with the equivalent of a GPS tool so you can navigate this industry and find the partner that is the best fit for you. To achieve this mission, the article is organized into the following 4 section:
Industrial Water Treatment Solutions
In elementary school, we’re all taught that the human body can only survive for 3-7 days without water. What we often aren’t taught is that industrial processes throughout the world probably couldn’t survive a day without water. From the painting in the automotive industry to the cooling of data centers, water is a critical ingredient in almost all goods we consume.
But we often don’t think of water for what it is - a chemical. It is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom – H20. And this chemical, water, can cause incredibly destructive and costly damage if left untreated.
Your first step in navigating this industry will be to determine if you need a solution for wastewater, cooling water, boiler water, process water, or produced water treatment.
It is hard to imagine today, but there was a time when industries would discharge their dirty water containing pollutants directly into our waterways. The Clean Water Act of 1972 put an end to this pollution and highlighted the importance of proper wastewater treatment solutions to remove contaminants before discharge. This regulation in the US is often regarded as the most important piece of environmental legislation regarding water quality. In fact, the Dober Water Treatment division was born as a result of this act.
The minimum goal of an industrial facility should be to maintain compliance with local discharge limitations. Equipment alone will not work in treating the wastewater unless proper chemical treatment is available. This is typically done through emulsion breaking utilizing coagulation and flocculation. There are 2 types of common chemical solutions:
Inorganic Metal Salts such as Aluminum Chloride and Ferric Chloride
Organic coagulants such as polyDADMAC, Polyamines
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COOLING WATER TREATMENT
Water is an excellent medium for transferring heat from one substance to another, it is non-toxic, and it is naturally abundant. These are just a few reasons why water is the heat transfer fluid used in cooling equipment such as a cooling tower. A cooling tower is an efficient way to remove heat from either a building or an industrial process. Rather than dumping the hot water into a nearby waterway (and causing harm to the ecosystem), the water can be evaporated and ejected into the atmosphere as steam. But any impurities from the water such as minerals and gases from the atmosphere do not evaporate and they are left behind. These impurities can cause problems of scale and corrosion on the metals they come in contact with and the particulates can create an environment that leads to microbial growth.
A measure of efficiency in the industry is ‘cycles of concentration’. By increasing the cycles of concentration, you will reduce water usage. However, this exacerbates the challenges poised by the impurities that are left behind from the evaporating water. Therefore, it is critical to have an effective system to control the ‘cooling water trifecta’
- Scale forms when the solubility of dissolved minerals threshold is passed. This can restrict water flow, but it also contributes to corrosion.
- Corrosion is simply the deterioration of metal as a result of a chemical reaction between the metal and its surrounding environment.
- Microbial Growth in a cooling tower occurs as a result of the conditions that are ripe for organism development. While they are a contributing factor to corrosion, a greater concern is the Legionella bacteria which thrive in the warm waters and can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires disease.
Proper treatment cannot occur in isolation. An effective cooling water treatment program is designed to control all three issues. An added challenge is not all water is created equally.
BOILER WATER TREATMENT
Boilers often use water as a key component of operating efficiently. Water is heated to produce heat or steam required for industrial applications. And similar to cooling towers, the water must be treated to operate the boiler properly. The water can be treated both before it enters the boiler to remove impurities and also within the boiler to limit the havoc water can create on the boiler surfaces it comes in contact with.
PROCESS WATER TREATMENT
Before the water ends up in an onsite (or offsite) wastewater facility, it is used in many manufacturing processes. Heavy water consumption occurs in the Pulp & Paper, Steel Manufacturing, or Food Processing industries. In these processes, we may want to make sure the water is removed of any contaminants that may impact the finished good being manufactured.
PRODUCED WATER TREATMENT
The oil industry is also a big user of water, and the term 'produced water' refers to water that was used in the process of oil and gas extraction. This produced water is classified as industrial waste. It is often a heavy brine and has a high level of total dissolved solids (TDS) that must be treated. The goal of treatment is often to either meet regulatory discharge limits or to prepare the water for reuse. The produced water composition and the onsite water management goals may influence the type of chemical coagulants and flocculants used in the treatment process. A technical expert from your preferred water treatment company should be able to help you navigate the proper approach. If you'd like to speak with someone from our team, we'd love to help.
The next step in your journey to understanding the water treatment industry is knowing the difference between companies that are ‘Basic’, those that are ‘Specialty’ and those that are ‘Toll Blenders’.
Basic chemical manufacturers are those that develop the building blocks for the chemical industry. Although these products are often referred to as commodities, they are critical raw materials for the industry. These companies often produce products in bulk and sell to distributors (see ‘Chemical Suppliers’). They make their money by producing at scale and often don’t sell to end-users unless there is substantial volume. Companies such as BASF and DowDupont fall into this category.
Specialty chemical manufacturers are “generally categorized by their innovative aspects that are sold for what they can do rather than for what they contain.” (Chemical Industry - Wikipedia). Companies that formulate chemistries for the various industrial water treatment solutions mentioned above would fall under this category. These companies formulate by combining raw materials in order to produce finished goods such as those that will inhibit scale and corrosion growth or to produce coagulants that will effectively treat wastewater. Specialty chemical manufacturers make a living by solving industry challenges through proprietary chemical formulations. Companies such as Dober fall in this category.
Toll blenders are the third type of chemical manufacturer. Toll blenders set up operations for formulators that don’t want to invest in the capital equipment required for manufacturing their formulated products. They also play an important role in expanding the reach of specialty chemical manufacturers. Their equipment and labor is essential ‘for rent’ which adds great benefits to companies that don’t have the volume to justify CapEx investments. Often, toll blenders also have formulating expertise, and companies such as Hydrite and Qualichem are good examples of blurring the lines between specialty chemical manufacturer and toll blender.
Click Here to learn more about key attributes to consider why selecting a chemical manufacturer
By definition, chemical manufacturers are supplying their finished products to someone, so they’re both manufacturers and chemical suppliers. But often, a manufacturer may focus on making a few core products whereas a company focused on distributing a wide array of products would be classified as a supplier. Think of it like this: a manufacturer is focused on depth of supply (digging a hole 50 feet deep but 2 feet wide) whereas a supplier is focused on breadth of supply (digging a hole 2 feet deep but 50 feet wide). It can be easy to see how the lines can get blurred depending on the product line or the company.
Chemical suppliers, often referred to as chemical distributors, differentiate themselves by building a sales network and logistics infrastructure to meet the needs of their local market. If they can reduce their proximity to the user, responsiveness, lead times, and costs, they'll often have success. Often, an end-user isn't able to purchase materials directly from companies like Dow, BASF, or Kemira due to high volume requirements. These manufacturers will supply to either very high-volume end-users or to suppliers who can distribute their products in smaller quantities.
The chemical suppliers fill the gap by servicing the ‘long tail’ of prospective customers. Thousands of prospects will purchase in small quantities but in aggregate their purchases sum to be a big volume.
An example of a global chemical supplier is Brenntag. We love how they capture the essence of the chemical industry with their tagline "Connecting Chemistry." Full disclosure is that we are proud to call Brenntag a partner for over 25 years.
Learn more about Shifting Trends for Chemical Suppliers by clicking here
While some chemicals are plug-and-play, many require the ongoing support of a technical service rep. These service providers are the ‘feet on the street’ for the chemical industry. They specialize in providing application support to ensure the end-user has the right chemical solution and that it is being applied the right way. They develop the relationship with the end-users, they are armed with a wealth of experience to share, and they are backed with great resources in the industry to lean on to help solve unique or challenging problems.
The service providers typically make a markup on the chemical, but the value add in their labor is worth every penny. Recently there has been a lot of consolidation in the water treatment service provider space.
There are national service companies such as ChemTreat and Garratt-Callahan that may be household names. And there is a network of over 500 regional based companies such as Clarity Water Technologies or Momar that you may know because they're your neighbor or you see their truck driving around town. While both national and regional service companies have their advantages and disadvantages, a key determinant often comes down to your comfort level with the local rep that would service your account. As a manufacturer/supplier of water treatment chemistries, we've had the privilege of working with hundreds of service providers and we can help connect you with a representative in your area.
Whether you're a new engineer responsible for ensuring your cooling tower and boilers operate efficiently or you're an industry veteran looking for a new manufacturer or supplier, we hope this gives you a good start in your journey within the water treatment industry.
If you'd like to discuss a specific challenge you're faced with, just contact us here and we'll get back to you within the business day.