Water treatment on contract

Rented mobile water services can be a cost effective alternative to capital investment in water treatment plant.

Veolia Water Technologies - Mobile Water Services

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Article Summary

Asset rental is an attractive alternative to high upfront investment in water treatment technology across many sectors, including the downstream oil and gas industry. Tightening capex budgets, an emphasis on business continuity and a desire for flexible, affordable water management have all generated a demand for mobile water services, which offer a cost effective, alternative solution to procuring new installations for upgrading existing infrastructure, as well as providing emergency relief and fulfilling temporary water requirements.

In everyday life, we are familiar with rental or subscription based models, whether leasing a car, streaming music or hiring equipment. However, choosing an alternative to ownership is not simply limited to the business-to-consumer market, and mobile water services rental has been growing over the past 15 years. It has quickly become a more cost effective and flexible alternative to a fixed water treatment plant in a wide range of industrial situations, and the downstream oil and gas industry has much to gain from its adoption. Despite advances in the technology, awareness still lags behind.

An evolving technology
A lot has changed since mobile water services were first introduced into the market. Originally, they were simply ion exchange resins mounted inside trailers, which could be transported to a site to provide a temporary supply of high purity water. However, needs have diversified, generating demand for a broader range of available physical and chemical technologies, from pretreatment by clarification and filtration to reverse osmosis, absorption, ultrafiltration and ancillary equipment. Nowadays, a typical mobile plant might consist of two or three containers or skid mounted systems, which can be assembled in a plug and play fashion. A typical setup involves initial pretreatment by multimedia filtration or granular activated carbon adsorption, followed by reverse osmosis in a second trailer, and subsequent mixed bed ion exchange polishing in a third.

The modular design of many of today’s mobile water services allows a variety of process configurations to be combined, making it possible to treat a towns’ mains, borehole, river and reservoir water, and even wastewater resources. The containers’ portability enables them to be positioned to make the best use of the available space, eliminating or reducing the need for building infrastructure to house the equipment. Any number of units can be operated in parallel or in series to provide the required flow rate, and their modularity allows additional components or treatment steps to be added for extra functionality or increased throughput, even if it is only needed for a short period of time. Storage tanks and pumps can also be provided – together with interconnecting fixed pipework or flexible hoses, water meters and fittings – and mobile generators support a completely standalone setup. A final, and perhaps the most important, consideration is that these modular units can be easily exchanged over time for the latest, updated technology, ensuring that a company’s water treatment systems remain at the cutting edge and benefit from the most cost effective, available solution from its mobile water services supplier.

Capex considerations
The downstream oil and gas industry faces a number of current challenges. Emissions and environmental targets, changes in supply and quality of feedstock, and volatility in costing, pricing and product demand have all made it more difficult to make a strong case for capital investment. The fallout of this has been a reluctance to invest in projects where the lifetime and return on investment are uncertain. In light of this, one of the attractions of mobile water services is their flexibility, as the rental payments can be covered by the operational budget, removing the need to raise capital. Mobile water service suppliers – such as Veolia Water Technologies – are often willing to enter into pay as you go, multiyear contracts, which help to improve financial planning thanks to predictable, regular payments.

A common misconception is that renting mobile water services is more expensive in the long run, yet this is rarely the case. A number of organisations are choosing long term hire in instances where the capital investment in a permanent plant would not pay back over the lifetime of the project. A net present value financial calculation comparing the costs of building and maintaining a new plant versus renting mobile water services over a multiyear period is revealing. While the build may be cheaper in the first couple of years, the service, asset maintenance and parts replacement offered by many mobile water services suppliers relieve the facility of these inevitable costs associated with owning a plant, not to mention asset depreciation. In a number of instances, several leading European downstream oil and gas companies have struggled to raise the necessary capex to design and build a new water treatment plant, due to uncertainty over meeting return on investment KPIs. Working with Veolia Water Technologies and its Mobile Water Services department, each business opted for long term rental of a containerised plant, which offered a more cost effective solution and was readily approved by the management.

Emergency provision
Companies that do not need to upgrade or replace their water treatment systems can still benefit from mobile water services, particularly in the event of emergencies. Business continuity is defined as “the capability of the organisation to continue delivery of products or services at acceptable predefined levels following a disruptive incident” (Source: ISO 22301:2012). In short, a company should be able to carry on regardless of any challenges it faces. Once a problem arises, it is imperative that a facility gets back to business as usual as quickly as possible, maintaining its reputation and credibility. Unplanned downtime results in loss of revenue, and puts further pressure on the plant to meet production quotas once it becomes operational. Typical emergency water treatment plant disruptions include defective equipment or controls, failure of the permanent water treatment plant, changes to the raw water supply, and downstream equipment failures or issues.

A temporary water treatment system is a good solution in an emergency and can sustain a continuous supply of treated water for all unanticipated scenarios, such as coping with short term peak power demands, which are particularly prevalent in some countries. Having a robust plan in times of disaster is critical, and mobile water services are helping companies to develop these plans so that they can respond quickly and effectively when a water-related emergency does arise. By supplying details in advance on its water requirements – such as quality, quantity, pressure of raw and treated water, and the type of hoses or connections used – there can be a rapid response, as the mobile water services supplier will already have selected and agreed on the appropriate resources to deliver.

An example of this was demonstrated when a leading international oil and gas company was experiencing trouble at one of its refineries – a contaminated condensate return was having a negative impact on the steam cooling process. The next planned shutdown was not scheduled until 2021, so the company required a four-year temporary solution for condensate polishing. A framework agreement for rapid and flexible asset deployment had been developed with Veolia Mobile Water Services which was able to step in and provide a containerised solution delivering up to 70 m3/h of treated water with a conductivity of <0.1 µS/cm. This intervention avoided costly downtime, and the refinery now benefits from 100% reuse of its condensate (see Figure 1).

Planned maintenance and turnarounds
Many downstream oil and gas facilities will also need to plan for maintenance of existing water systems, and mobile water services can be brought in to cover equipment servicing, ensuring that production or business processes can continue and avoiding costly downtime. In some instances, a facility may need to cope with seasonal or unexpected changes to its raw water supply. For example, bacterial and algal growth, or increased levels of suspended solids during a period of high rainfall, can lead to reduced throughput and long term damage to existing equipment.

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