Water is a hot topic in the mining sector as social responsibility expectations and more stringent environmental regulations enforcement rise. Whether the challenge is too little or too much water; the requirements for flexible, effective and efficient treatment and desalination solutions suited to the specific demands of the sector continue to grow.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the conventional approach to water and wastewater infrastructure does not meet the specific and onerous demands of the mining sector. In order to meet water treatment challenges, the same ingenuity that has been applied to mining extraction and processing techniques needs to be applied to mine water management and treatment.
Recognising this, NuWater was built from the ground up specifically to address the unique water and wastewater treatment and reuse requirements of the mining, and oil and gas sectors. “Since the company was established in 2010, we have gone about building an expert engineering team and technology portfolio that allows us to offer some of the most innovative water and wastewater treatment solutions and services available to these sectors,” says CEO John Holmes.
“In particular, we have focused on agility and flexibility, both in terms of our technology and plant designs, as well as our commercial offerings. We also recognised early that having the best available product is only part of what our clients demand. As a result we have instilled an obsessive customer-service culture throughout the organisation, underpinned by honesty and respect.”
In a short space of time, NuWater has proven the effectiveness and efficiency of its large-scale, completely ‘modular & mobile’ water treatment and desalination plants, and demonstrated the benefits of rapid plant deployment and, where necessary, redeployment. The responsiveness and flexibility that its plants offer is starting to reset expectations in the mining sector. “We have also had the opportunity to demonstrate and prove our commercial flexibility on a range of projects, with commercial models ranging from full service build, own and operate (BOO) through to plant rental and more conventional equipment sales,” Holmes continues.
In all cases, NuWater retains complete responsibility for design, manufacture and installation, as well as a very high level of on- going involvement in the operations and maintenance of these plants, including 24-hour remote plant monitoring from its operations centre in Cape Town.
From a technology perspective, NuWater – and its predecessor company, GrahamTek – has long been recognised internationally as having some of the most advanced reverse osmosis (RO) technology available. RO is the default choice for large-scale desalination applications, be it seawater, brackish water or wastewater desalination. NuWater’s patented large-diameter 16-inch RO technology, originally invented in South Africa, was pioneered in 2007 at the Singapore Public Utilities Board’s 55 000 m³/d secondary wastewater reclamation plant, the Bedok NEWater factory.
The high quality of the water produced from the Bedok plant results in most of it being directed for use in electronic wafer factories, with the balance being recycled for indirect potable reuse. The factory produces about 5% of Singapore’s water requirement and is also home to the country’s NEWater visitor’s centre, which explains to visitors the technology used to reclaim clean water from wastewater. In 2007, NuWater also commissioned the world’s first 16-inch RO seawater desalination plant for YTL PowerSeraya‘s power station on Jurong Island, Singapore.Global Water Intelligence voted this plant ‘Desalination Plant of the Year, 2008’.
Aside from the superior performance and efficiency of NuWater’s 16-inch RO technology, another key feature is that the technology is significantly more compact than conventional 8-inch RO technology. This is critical in achieving true plant modularity and mobility, which in turn allows for rapid deployment and, where necessary, redeployment of large-scale capacity for mine wastewater treatment and reclamation applications.
“Having proven that our 16-inch RO technology and proprietary plant design allows for a completely ‘modular & mobile’ large-scale RO solution, we then successfully set about designing the most compact high-capacity ultrafiltration (UF) pre-treatment modules. We have also extended our high capacity UF and RO ‘modular & mobile’ product portfolio further to cover brine treatment and expect to deploy the first commercial modules in the next few months.
Our product development team is also working on an RO pre-treatment module based on ceramic membranes for release in the next few months,” Holmes reveals.
This ceramic membrane technology is more cost-effective than equivalent polymeric membrane solutions and has the added benefit of being resistant to acidic water or any other chemical damage. “We expect this treatment module to be particularly useful for mining applications.”
“Superior technology is all well and good, but at NuWater we appreciate that real knowledge and capability is only built through experience, often gained through sweat and tears. Nowhere is this more true than in the mining sector where operating conditions are challenging and mistakes and delays costly. We have built a wealth of experience through successful projects delivered to date and have earned the trust of demanding customers such as Anglo American and Gold Fields,” Holmes outlines.
In late 2010, NuWater was awarded a BOO project for the provision of a water treatment and desalination solution of up to 20 000 m³/d for Anglo American Thermal Coal‘s New Vaal colliery, near Vereeniging. NuWater proposed its completely ‘modular & mobile’ plant, which enabled it to have the first treatment capacity commissioned within weeks of contract signing. Treatment capacity was then ramped up over the next three months through the addition of further modules.
The modularity of the plant allows capacity to be added or removed with minimal, if any, impact on day-to-day treated water production. The high-quality product water produced by the NuWater plant at New Vaal is pumped to the neighbouring Eskom Lethabo power station for use as cooling water, further enhancing the environmental credentials of the project. The initial two year contract period is now being extended by a further three years.
In mid-2012 Gold Fields selected NuWater, together with Murray & Roberts, to provide two rapidly deployable modular plants, one treating 2 700 m³/d and the other 7 200 m³/d, for its Tarkwa operations in Ghana. Once again, the modularity and mobility of the NuWater plant was a key factor in the selection process along with the sense of urgency and client commitment displayed by the NuWater team. Gold Fields also benefited from NuWater’s ability to deliver different parts of the plants at short notice from its operations in South Africa, Singapore and the UK.
“Furthermore, our ability to offer commercial flexibility through a combination of equipment rental, equipment sale, and operations and maintenance services has allowed Gold Fields to achieve a fast and cost-effective solution to its water treatment requirement.” Interest from new clients in NuWater’s ‘modular & mobile’ solutions continues to grow as the benefits of both technical and commercial flexibility become more obvious.
Extension of the company’s product offering to cover brine treatment and acid mine drainage applications is also putting it in the best possible position to provide complete mine wastewater treatment, reclamation and reuse solutions and services to address the most challenging requirements.