Innovation bolsters returns

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Innovation is more than just a dot-point inclusion on a list of corporate values at Queensland water utility Unitywater. Not only has it won a global award for adopting innovative technologies in recent months, Unitywater also has a Research and Innovation team dedicated to seeking out and introducing ways to work smarter, quicker and safer.

The innovation process improves operational efficiency and environmental performance in three ways:

  • Capturing the continuous improvements that Unitywater people achieve day to day
  • Adopting new ideas and technologies
  • Working with suppliers of equipment and services to prove up concepts on a live water and sewage network.

Unitywater Executive Manager Simon Taylor was also inspired by his Research and Innovation (R&I) staff to challenge the very way he approached his work days recently.

“Innovation is about curiosity and discovery,” said Mr Taylor, who leads Unitywater’s Infrastructure Planning and Capital Delivery division.

“To be truly open to new ideas, I need to look at familiar processes and activities differently. I thought I would challenge myself to start questioning the norm, and consider being brave enough to try something that we haven’t tried before.

“Over the past few months, I have been asking ‘why?’, ‘why not?’ and ‘what if?’ to help shake up my thinking.”

Ice Pigging

Ice Pigging is an innovative technique to clean water mains. The technology has been used both nationally and internationally with success. Ice Pigging removes sediment and biofilm many times more effectively than alternative techniques whilst using minimal water and reducing risks to the network.

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Water samples showing quality improvements throughout the ice-pigging process.

 

The process involves the injection of an ice slurry (think of a Slurpee) into water pipes through a standard water hydrant. The ice is then forced along the pipe by the pressure of the water supply, and is collected from another hydrant further down the line in a waste tanker and disposed of. Sediment particles become trapped within the ice slurry and are removed from the water mains along with the ice. Ice pigging can be used as an effective tool as part of a preventative maintenance strategy to help keep water quality high.

The process only uses half the amount of water of the traditional cleaning process of flushing water through the pipes. Interruption to supply is kept to a minimum. This ice pigging process is more expensive on a cost-per-metre of pipe basis, but because it takes out 17 times the sediment, it becomes a very effective option in some situations.

JCS Liquid Vacuum Chemical Feeder

The JCS 4100 Liquid Vacuum Chemical Feeder is a chemical dosing system that uses a vacuum to pull chemicals through the unit where an electronic sensor accurately measures it. The electronic sensor helps maintain accurate and stable dosing rates. The JCS unit will respond to blockages or entrapped air (off gassing) and automatically adjust to situations that would normally cause errors in conventional liquid feed systems. Unlike pressure dosing devices, the JCS 4100 conveys the chemicals under vacuum conditions, eliminating the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals under pressure therefore increasing safety.

Unitywater is trialling a JCS 4100 vacuum chemical feeder at one of its sewage treatment plants.

Unitywater is trialling a JCS 4100 vacuum chemical feeder at one of its sewage treatment plants.

The trial of the JCS 4100 with sodium hypochlorite on a recycled water scheme aims to confirm that the JCS 4100 is accurate and that it does not require ancillary devices such as back pressure, pressure relief, pulsation dampeners and calibration columns. This would make the JCS 4100 much cheaper to install and operate than traditional pressure systems.

Unitywater is currently assessing the benefits of the JCS 4100, but the system is expected to offer improved safety, accuracy, control, data transmission and alarms as well as operational savings.

Cloevis

Cloevis is a technology that came out of research conducted by the Advanced Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland. Cloevis is a mix of commercially available chemicals that becomes Free Nitrous Acid (FNA) which acts as a biocide.

The university claimed that Cloevis’ proprietary technology will yield significant operating cost savings for water utilities and municipalities. The results of Unitywater’s Cloevis trial supported these claims.

Cloevis is an alternative to other chemicals on the market for the control of odours and corrosion in sewerage networks. Unitywater has completed a trial of dosing Cloevis at a sewage pumping station at Scarborough and found that it is effective in controlling odours and the potential for corrosion downstream. Cloevis acts as a biocide to kill the biofilms that grow on the sides of sewer pipes. The biofilms give off the offensive hydrogen sulphide gas.

Unitywater has 778 sewage pumping stations. A small proportion of these transfer raw sewage long distances and provide a good opportunity for biofilms to grow and multiply. If the potential for odour and corrosion caused by the biofilms is not managed properly then downstream residents may experience offensive odours, and Unitywater’s assets may experience a slow and steady decay.

The trial at Scarborough proved that Cloevis is very effective. Unitywater will now work with the university to develop a commercially attractive product.

Through its R&I strategy, Unitywater aims to become an innovative and learning organisation, exploit research and development opportunities, and be across emerging technologies as well as research grants and subsidies.

“This is an incredibly important area for Unitywater,” Mr Taylor said.

“It means promoting a culture of knowledge-sharing within the organisation so that we can showcase current projects and trials, form partnerships with industry and ultimately deliver benefits to our customers by simply doing things better.”

Unitywater won the Global Most Active Member award from the Technology Approval Group (TAG) this year.

TAG is a partnership between global consultancy Isle Utilities and organisations from around the world to look at fast-tracking the adoption of new inventions and innovations to benefit various industry sectors.

At the 100th water industry TAG forum in Athens (which was held in association with the 2015 Global Water Summit), Isle Utilities decided to honour innovation leadership in the global water industry.

Technology companies were recognised for their step-change inventions and contribution to the industry.

Unitywater was up against seven other international authorities for the ‘Most Active TAG Member’ award.

Unitywater won the award based on: trialling technologies from TAG, follow-up meetings with technology providers, working with technology companies and involvement in collaborative trials and horizon scans.

“Winning this award is a significant achievement for Unitywater and one we are very proud of,” Mr Taylor said.

“This award is shared by staff working in many sections of the organisation, including infrastructure planners, engineers, field crew and treatment plant operators.”

Some of the technologies trialled and/or purchased by Unitywater include: ice pigging, the JCS liquid vacuum chemical feeder, and the Cloevis chemical for odour and corrosion management.

“As a regulated business, Unitywater needs to act prudently and efficiently in all of its business decisions,” Mr Taylor said. “However, Unitywater is starting to see benefits from new technology.”

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