Earlier in March, GE announced that it will provide the first wastewater treatment system for use in a U.S. coal mine. CONSOL Energy will install the technology later this year at its Buchanan 1 facility in Oakwood, VA – one of the nation’s largest underground coal mines.
GE’s zero liquid discharge (ZLD) system is capable of treating 1,600 gallons of water per minute. Using hollow-fiber ultrafiltration and reverse osmosis, it will remove dispersed and dissolved impurities from the mine’s high-salinity wastewater.
The resulting concentrated brine will then treated through thermal evaporation and crystallization, creating crystallized waste salt and allowing reuse of up to 99% of the treated water within the mine. The system will benefit CONSOL Energy by decreasing the amount of freshwater that it currently sources and transports from external sites.
The treatment of wastewater from coal mines represents a tremendous, and largely untapped market. The high level of total dissolved solids and total suspended solids in the wastewater causes frequent membrane fouling, which drives up operation and maintenance costs. GE entered the market in North America by targeting one of the region’s largest underground coal mines. So, if the company’s ZLD system proves cost effective in the long run, GE will have a strong advantage in the mining wastewater market.
Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric (GE), announced that the company plans on increasing its R&D spending on water technologies by 50% in the next two to three years. As part of its intensive focus on water, the company is also building a $108 million water research hub in Singapore in conjunction with the nation-state’s Public Utility Board. The heightened interest in water, no doubt, is because of simple supply-demand imbalances manifested throughout the world – but particularly acute in Singapore, the Middle East, Australia, China and elsewhere. These imbalances are driving the need for more advanced methods of providing drinking water, including desalination and water recycling, as well as treating waste water.
The ramifications of GE’s announcement will ripple quickly throughout the hydrocosm. Many existing water companies, venture capital firms and start-ups proclaim that the historically sleepy water sector is quickly morphing into an exciting growth opportunity on the back of major secular drivers. As a leading industrial conglomerate known for shrewd investments in technology sectors, GE’s proclamation provides all companies operating in the water sector newfound credibility that may lift valuations, and could draw more companies and VCs into the fray. Also, expect GE’s many competitors, including Siemens, ITT, Dow, Veolia and GLV, to respond by increasing their own R&D spending and stepping up acquisition activity to remain competitive.