The water sector is intimately linked to other sectors such as energy and food production. The footprint of water production and treatment is as a result generally calculated from an energy perspective. Contrarily to energy needs, chemical needs are rarely considered. The consumption of chemicals for water is increasing annually with over 3% and according to my calculations the top 5 chemicals actually already represent an embedded energy for their production higher than the total energy consumption of the water sector in the US. Moreover, the consumption of chemicals also leads to a number of unwanted secondary effects such as salt residues, byproduct formation, corrosion. When considering the purpose of most chemicals used, from disinfection to pH control and coagulation, alternatives can be generated electrochemically in situ. As electricity can be produced sustainably and in any location and scale, this opens up opportunities for novel processes such as metal precipitation, pH balancing, softening. In my presentation I will discuss the aforementioned impact of chemicals and provide several examples of on-going projects that contribute to the electrification of the water sector.
Korneel Rabaey is a full professor at the Department of Biotechnology, Ghent University, as well as CTO of CAPTURE (www.capture-resources.be). He currently leads a research team of 25 postdoctoral and doctoral researchers with the main research focus on electrification in the context of resource recovery. This implies for example replacement of chemicals for wastewater treatment by electricity, the conversion of CO2to organic products, electro-bioremediation of groundwater and electricity-driven sanitation of septage in India. The research spans from basic science to technology development and on-site implementation. He has authored over 190 peer-reviewed articles within this area attracting over 30,000 citations. As a special interest, he works on the interface between arts and science, working with several artists to create microbiology based artworks. Dr. Rabaey is also an honorary professor at The University of Queensland and one of the founders of the International Society for Microbial Electrochemistry and Technology (ISMET, President from 2013 – 2015). Since 2018 he is fellow of the International Water Association. He is an Executive Editor in Chief of Environmental Science & Ecotechnology (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/environmental-science-and-ecotechnology/).