Water Distillation Plants: Distilling Water for the Masses
Three quarters of the Earth is water. It is hard to believe, though, that with so much of the liquid, there is scarcity. It is even harder to take that water is not accorded to everyone in this planet, especially water that is fit for living thing consumption.
Through the years, man developed means to produce clean water. Through the years, its technology has evolved further. Water purification is now an everyday and necessary process in the household as well as the community.
In a report by the Water Information Program, an estimated 2.4 billion people lack sanitation facilities resulting to 1.1 billion of people without access to safe water. In the past 10 years since the report, deaths due to diarrhea related to unsanitary water have been reported to be more than deaths due to armed conflicts. A sad statistic.
Enter the process of distillation. Said to be the oldest form of water purification, water distillation provides better chances for areas with little or no clean water. Identically, distillation processes have also improved over the years since it was introduced during Aristotle’s time.
The US EPA or the US Environmental Protection Agency is an organization that sees to the protection of human health and the environment. It is responsible for the WaterSense voluntary program with private companies to encourage water conservation and efficiency. This program works with many different companies, from manufacturers to builders.
Companies joining the WaterSense partnership commits to the organization’s mission. In the organization, memberships differ according to the services and products provided by these prospective members. It is a free partnership, but the commitment to its cause is serious.
Each type of partnership has its own mission to help the WaterSense program. As an example, water distiller manufacturers who are WaterSense partners adhere to specific product specification for water handling efficiency.
On the other hand, the US FDA or US Food and Drug Administration enforces regulations for safe water among other things. As an example, the International Bottled Water Association or IBWA follows FDA regulations as their basis for their bylaws. In conjunction with this, IBWA imposed stricter compliance rules for their members as well.
FDA, EPA and IBWA are just a few of the government agencies and organizations that they should adhere to in order to do business.
It is only prudent to learn about the water industry, in order to better serve it and create better products centered on water. Every so often, different governing bodies update these statistics for research and information purposes. We quote statistics verbatim from the WaterSense EPA page:
- 5 to 10 percent approximately of Americans have leaks in their homes. Leaks drip away 90 gallons in a day. These are mostly due to old fixtures. If these leaks are fixed and new and efficient fixtures were installed, it could save 30,000 gallons.
- By using WaterSense labeled faucets and its accessories, household water use is reduced by more than 500 gallons annually.
- WaterSense faucets and its accessories reduce excessive flow by more than 30 percent but without sacrificing performance.
- If 1 in 10 homes install WaterSense faucets and accessories in bathrooms, it could potentially save 6 billion gallons of water. In addition, costs on heat and water treatment will save $50 million.
- Use of certified water irrigation system maintenance reduces irrigation water use by 15%.
Water distillation is a process in water purification. In this process, it boils unfiltered or unclean water and lets steam condense into a clean container. It may seem simple but it is a stringent process that involves appropriate machines and precise steps to produce distilled water. When water is distilled, impurities are removed.
Distillation is probably the oldest form of cleaning water. It is not a chemical reaction as many think but a physical separation process. It is the process by which components are separated from liquid by using evaporation and condensation.
If evaporation and condensation seem familiar from elementary science, it is because it is the same process, just different channels. Science teachers use the rain or more commonly, the Water Cycle to explain. Precipitation, Condensation and Evaporation are the processes involved in the cycle.
To explain, let us look at each process one by one:
Evaporation is the process by which liquid state turns into gaseous state. This is known as water vapor or steam. For example, water vapor in the air is from surface water such as oceans, seas, lakes, and even puddles. Imagine the other particles that come with it. Steam or vapor is clean, pure water.
When unclean water has passed through the evaporation process using boiling point heat, it passes through another process or phase in the water cycle. Converting it back to its liquid form is called the process of Condensation. Science class discussion will tell you this is the process by which clouds are formed. Without clouds, the next phase in the cycle cannot be accomplished. Fog is a form of condensation.
The 3rd phase in the water cycle is called Precipitation. When there is enough condensation, water falls to the earth in the form of rain, sleet, snow or hail.
If this sounds familiar, it should be. It is the same process used in distilled water that we drink, without the precipitation part. Water distillation involves evaporation and condensation.
Moreover, distillation removes most contaminants--but not all of them. The process removes just enough of the water’s other substances to render the effect of such small amounts ineffective.
From evaporation, other contaminants flow over through the condensation phase. When water is distilled, it can also be reused, this is why industrial water distillers use it.
Water distillation is a careful process, requiring stringent maintenance to ensure that water is pure. Compared to other water purification processes, water distillation takes a while to produce. This is why it costs a lot to employ.
While the water cycle surely goes through a lot of water, it doesn’t have to keep up with demand nor does it have a committee to satisfy with purity.
So how do large bottling companies distil water to get it to us? The Pure Water Company gives us insight on how the whole process happens.
When you have a commercial distillation facility, you can usually expect to distil up to millions gallons of water in a day. With so much water, what would be the biggest feature in a commercial distillation plant?
Huge vats or tanks of water could be part of the facility, but it’s really up to the brand on what system they want to use. They use multiple-effect distillers that include several boiling chambers. But you can be sure that their process usually involves the following:
- The first boiling chamber puts the most pressure on the water, with each chamber decreasing the amount of pressure being put on the liquid.
- The steam from the first chamber is then superheated, to a temperature far above what the next chamber would need to evaporate.
- The steam produced by each chamber moves to the next vat with lesser pressure.
- Some of the superheated steam is sure to escape thoroughly from one chamber to another, making the liquid in the pipes flash vaporize as well, keeping distillation process continuous.
- The flash vapor is the condensed into distilled water first, followed by everything else in the vats.
- Note that since the first chamber is always superheated, the flash vapor is always replenished, so the whole process is continuous--it doesn’t happen in batches.
This process is one of the cheapest to employ, since it just requires one boiling chamber to be superheated, and the rest only to be pressurized. Most companies that bottle water or need distilled water in the millions of gallons use this process.
Another method is to use for smaller but commercial installations is the vapor-compression distiller. This setup only processes about 25 to 5000 gallons in a day, so larger operations cannot use this.
But for SMEs and companies only undertaking in-house distillation for their products, this could be a great solution.
HERE'S HOW IT'S DONE:
- Using only a single chamber, the water is pressurized, just like with a multiple-effect distiller system.
- The water in the chamber is converted to steam then goes through an electric compressor.
- The compressor causes the liquid to become superheated.
- The superheated steam is coursed through tubes that go back into the boiling chamber.
Basically, at the end of the process, all the water in the boiling chamber becomes distilled at some point. This method involves batch distillation and is more efficient than using multiple boiling chambers.
Keep in mind that water that goes through commercial distillation processes have already been softened, to eliminate the need to distil at different temperatures.
Distilled water is pure, but what does the process of distillation purify, exactly? Boiling water at specific temperatures gets rid of significant amounts of the following:
- Atracine (herbicide/pesticides)
- Trichloroethylene (TCE)
- Biological Contaminants (bacteria, viruses and water-borne organisms)
A distillation system with activated carbon filtration can also be quite effective for treating
aesthetic drinking water contaminants like chlorine or iron bacteria, which lead to unpleasant tastes, odors, or colors.
So now you have gallons and gallons of distilled water, how do you bottle and deliver this to the businesses and consumers?
According to Food Business News released by the Beverage Marketing Association in a State of the Industry: Beverages, bottled water continues to show strength in sales.
Bottled water is a highly regulated beverage by the US Food and Drug Administration. It passes through difficult and multi-level st eps to make sure that it is fit for mass consumption.
The International Bottled Water Association or IBWA is an association of bottled water manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to ensure they adhere to safety of bottled waters worldwide. In addition to their commitment to stringent processes involved in bottling, the association has its own bylaws even more strict and rigorous than that of the US FDA’s. It is a part of their commitment to providing safe, consumable water to the public.
All bottled products, according to IBWA, undergo a multi-barrier approach. This is no different with distilled bottled water. A multi-barrier approach differs from every manufacturer, but may include the following:
- Source Protection
- Source Monitoring
- Reverse Osmosis
- UV Light
- Carbon Filtration
Bottled water is tested more times than tap water. It is tested 30 times more than tap water on a per gallon basis. Furthermore, testing on bottled water and public water system, as mandated by FDA and EPA on an hourly basis through minimum number of samples.
In any case, the IBWA provides a guide to all current and prospective members on code of practice. Moreover, bottling process also differ per manufacturer. At the very least, bottling follows these steps:
BOTTLING MADE EASY...
Bottles are collected by route managers. These are either picked up from homes or business establishments. When picked up, the bottles are manually inspected one by one for cleanliness.
Once they reach the bottling line, bottles are inspected visually and are sniffed for contaminants.
Once done, bottles are passed through a washer conveyor. Some companies use an Aquatyzer Bottle Washer, which has the function to wash, sanitize and rinse. Computer-based, it washes every bottle for two minutes in a 130-degree solution. In its sanitation portion, an ozone solution of 1,500 more powerful than chlorine is used.
Afterwards, bottles are inspected for holes, cracks or leaks by using a Leak Tester. A leak tester vacuums each bottle then monitors for signs of leaks. Holes, punctures or cracks are often detected because of air leaks.
If there are no leaks, it gets filled. If there is a leak, it gets bumped off into another line to be recycled.
Bottles are then inverted and transferred to a pressurized filler. It is also in this process that they are filled, capped, and time and date coded.
Once finished, bottles go through a racking area to ready for delivery.
As enumerated, bottling undergoes different stages, depending on the water bottling company or manufacturer and the technology they use. These days, technology has enabled supply chain manufacturers the prerogative to go all-machine system instead of using human factor to do all the processes.
You can expect to distill water in 4 hours per gallon in a typical situation. It is expensive because it uses high amounts of energy to boil and time.
Households, if they prefer, use distillation as a means to purify drinking water. But distillation is also used in high grade industrial purposes. For industry-grade needs, fractional distillation is used. As the name implies, fractional distillation separates mixtures into fractions.
Chemical components are separated to their boiling point factor on a specific temperature by which one component among the others will vaporize.
Fractional distillation is most common in the following industries:
- Petroleum refineries
- Petrochemical and chemical plants
- Natural gas processing
- Cryogenic air separation plants
On the other hand, distillation is also used in pharmaceutical and bottled water industries.
With industrial distillation, the equipment used are column types which are considered conventional distillation. Some plants use distillation towers as well.
In a seawater distillation plant, the objective is to improve water quality. It aims to turn seawater to potable water in accordance to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standards for drinking water.
In some cases, potable water is manufactured in a solar distillation plant to turn sea water, brackish or even contaminated water to clean water fit for drinking. Historically speaking, solar distillation was already present in the old age but it was only in the 19th century that a solar power distillation was built in Chile.
It provided as much as 20,000 liters of water to nearby villages and people. Solar power distillation is simple. Rain formation process is used in producing clean water.
But with the advances in technology, even solar power for distillation has upgraded and provided choices for equipment. Solar power distillation can use Single Basin Solar Stills, Emergency Stills, Multi-stage Flash Distillation (MSF), and Multi-effect Distillation.
Sewage treatment also uses the distillation process. In this case, a multi-stage process is used to render this type of water safe and can be reused in the natural environment.
Desalinizing water is also another use in industrial distillation. A column industrial distiller is used to desalinate water. This process is used to provide clean water to areas where there is a scarcity such as in rural areas in underdeveloped countries.
Using a consumer outlook, distillation is also present in liquor, beer and wine. This is why most liquor, beer or wine manufacturers are called distilleries as they also use distillation plants to make their products. Agave Loco Brands, Bacardi USA, Moet Henessy USA, Patron Spirits, and Remy Cointreau USA are just some of the known distillers who are part of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).
Similarly, a water distillation plant can also serve both industrial and commercial purposes. Industrial water distillers can still serve commercial purposes by a joint effort with local government.
In fact, a distilled water plant manufacturer partners with government projects to serve noble intentions of providing potable drinking water to rural areas. If not drinking water, an industrial water distiller may also help in the agricultural industry by providing irrigation.
This is because distillation plant equipment is not cheap, unless you are starting your own distilled water plants, the costs cannot be shouldered for simple purposes only. Most of the time, an industrial distillation equipment is sold or leased to the government or private corporation to serve a geographical area’s problems or needs for water, be it for human consumption or other purposes.
Furthermore, water is a continuous public and private project. For instance, an abstract submitted to the World Bank recommended thermal and sea water distillation plant project for Malta. An industrial distiller can bid for projects pertaining to industrial distillation equipment or services.
Industrial distilled water is highly important for areas with water scarcity. Humans may live without food for days, but cannot go on without water for long. It is not enough to provide residential water distillers to households because it is limiting. This is why an industrial water plant plays a great and much needed role in nation building.
Another key point to remember is the distilled water plant cost. Demand is making it more affordable for residential use but industrial purposes are a different matter. If we go back to the World Bank Malta Project as an example, total project cost was $7.5 Million. Depending on the type of equipment you need, you can expect to spend from $15,000 to $50,000 for a domestic industrial water distillation system.
In truth, there is danger in every step of the distillation and supply chain processes. There is a human or a machine factor error in each phase. However, from the evaporation and condensation alone, there is no guarantee that certain contaminants cannot get into the condensation phase. There are cases that it is possible. This is the disadvantage of the distillation process.
To explain, distillation is effective in removing bacteria and most minerals. However, VOCs, chlorine and chlorine byproducts are left. Also, there is wastage in this process because it removes the minerals. In addition, before producing distilled water, a huge amount of water is lost or discarded.
Distillation deals with different chemicals. These prove to be hazardous due to chemical reactions, especially when there are not enough stern standards to oversee the processing.
Machines are also susceptible to wear and tear and environmental factors.
In other instances for batch distillation, residue temperature was not measured accurately causing overheating. Batch distillation is distillation in batches, separating mixtures into fractional components. It is also important to note that in distillation, there are chemical components involved.
When there are chemicals, fire an explosion is a hazard that should always be considered. It is a given occurrence. However, this is not to say that manufacturers cannot guard or prevent such things from happening.
As always, prevention is always the best course of action and protection. Below is a list of things to consider when it comes to prevention and safety.
- It is important to note that the first priority should be the decomposition of residue from the process because of high energy output and chemical components.
- Process control measures should be a given. This means there should be stern steps and standards focused on looking into processes alone.
- In terms of output, quality control measures should be in place. As mentioned previously, IBWA impose checking water quality more rigid than those imposed by the US FDA. This is a welcome process to oversee the safety of consumers.
- As expected, machines used in distillation should have the proper Service Level Agreements with vendors to ensure these are always in top condition.
- Exercise exhaustive means to train people involved in the processes. Trainings should always be thorough. There is no compromise in this portion. There are many cases where untoward incidents are caused by human error. This is the reason why some industrial plants prefer machine operations rather than have a mix of humans and technology in the process.
- Machine parts are made especially for distillation plants. These should not be taken for granted.
- When using machines, it is important to note proper usage, so have manuals reviewed consistently. Make sure manuals are available to everyone.
Off the bat, these are just on hand safety precautions that ever distillation handler should keep in mind. There are more formal steps to take especially in industrial distillation plants. Coupled with IBWA and US FDA standards on safety, you commit to a safe handling and provision of potable water to the community.
Water is the most important resource living beings need. It is no surprise that climate change advocacies seek to protect it. Distillation is just one way of purifying water, but the processes involved in it are strenuous and hard working.
There has to be some kind of scientific respect for anything that is hard working to provide a resource that is taken for granted so much that it is in danger of disappearing.
Conservation and sustainability for water is a cause that should be taken seriously. So do the processes involved in making it a life saver. Clean water provision is a global initiative. Industrial water distillation plants contribute to this continual program by keeping up to date the technology and chemical components needed to produce water.