Due to climate change and a resulting decline in water resources, there has been an increasing concern and focus on efficient water use in Australia. Since 2001/02, water authorities within metropolitan Melbourne have been working with the top 200 industrial water users to develop plans to reduce their water use, and this program was later extended in 2006 to businesses using in excess of 10 million litres per annum (approximately 1000 businesses in Melbourne).
However, there are currently no guidelines for small to medium businesses using less than 10 million liters per annum to develop strategies and action plans to reduce water consumption. The small companies neither have the expertise nor the extra finances necessary to develop water sustainability plans.
Food processing consumes more than 241,000 million litres of water each year throughout Australia, equating to 28 per cent of the total water used in the manufacturing sector nationwide and making it the largest water using industrial sector.
The food industry is extremely conservative and is averse to risk regarding chemical and microbial contamination of food. As a result, food industries use copious amounts of water in cleaning operations.
RMIT University together with the City of Whittlesea council, City of Hume, Plenty Food Group and Yarra Valley Water saw opportunities to save water in this sector by using targeted professional knowledge, HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) plans, new technology and best practices – including behavioural change in regards to water use practices.
There are several commercial and free toolkits available to industry. However these are often produced by third party providers and have only one intended customer.
Backed by the Smart Water Fund, RMIT University set about developing an online toolkit that would encourage and assist small to medium-sized food processing businesses identify and prioritise initiatives to maximise water savings.
The project audited 8 industries within the study period to cover a range of food manufacturing industries. The purpose of these audits was to:
- Gain enough generic information about onsite processes to construct the toolkit;
- Collate information on water consumption patterns and flow rates;
- Help the industries save potable water.
“The toolkit enables users to compare their current water-use and water-saving statistics against industry benchmarks, and identifies potential opportunities for saving water at their current facility,” says RMIT’s Dr Niranjali Jayasuriya.
“Up-to-date water usage data is entered into the toolkit wizard, which then summarises and conveys it as values that estimate the business’ KPI benchmarks, water-use breakdown, and best case water usage estimates under the water type classification.”
This project is the first collaboration between industry group representatives, local councils, water authorities, a university and manufacturers towards the development of generic, model-based, multi- sector water systems engineering.
It is envisaged that model-based approach to engineering such systems could be applied more widely, and so has significance to other manufacturing sectors.
Dr Niranjali says the experience in developing the toolkit has given RMIT an exciting glimpse into the future of water management.
“The toolkit can provide a launching pad for ideas about the future development and deployment of a massively scalable generic system that integrates cutting-edge technologies and best practices from around the world.”