23 Mar 11 SAB and Rhodes combine in ground-breaking water treatment project
SA Breweries (SAB), in partnership with Rhodes University, has successfully treated brewery waste-water to standards suitable for re-use in irrigation and other secondary water uses using an environmentally sustainable approach.
This groundbreaking research, known as Project Eden, is a first for the South African brewing industry and is aimed at assisting in the preservation of the country’s scarce water supply. The pilot plant site is based at SAB’s iBhayi Brewery in Port Elizabeth.
Project Eden was unveiled for the first time on World Water Day, 22 March. The project follows a pilot programme which began at the end of 2008.
SABMiller Group Technical made an initial investment of R1-million to Rhodes University, towards the project.
A team from Rhodes University’s Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science recovered water from brewery effluent using High Rate Algal Ponding (HRAP) and Constructed Wetland (CW) technology.
The water was successfully treated to water discharge standards using a pilot plant downstream of the brewery’s anaerobic digestion effluent treatment plant.
The water generated is currently only suitable for discharge into saline estuaries, namely the Swartkops River flowing nearby iBhayi Brewery, as it contains a concentration of chlorides. Further investment in the Project Eden plant to reduce the conductivity of the effluent post the Constructed Wetland, and reduce chloride concentrates, would result in the treated water meeting general discharge standards.
SAB is following all necessary municipal requirements and processes to discharge the treated effluent.
Additionally, hydroponic lettuce and fish were produced in the treated effluent as part of a scientific experiment, or bioassay, to test the treated water’s quality and further research into this is being conducted.
At least 0.15% of iBhayi Brewery’s total annual water use was treated during the pilot phase of Project Eden.
Plans are under way to upscale the Project Eden plant to treat 30% of iBhayi Brewery’s effluent and ultimately 100% of the water is to be treated depending on the success of the project.
All untreated effluent from the Brewery is discharged in the municipal effluent stream and treated at one of the municipality treatment plants.
SAB places a significant amount of effort and resources into understanding and addressing the issue of water. In addition to this, the company values partnerships with like-minded organisations, individuals and academics who bring with them a wealth of knowledge and skills, increasing the ability to make a positive difference.
“The preservation of our country’s precious water supply is a priority. If we are to make progress on this, we need to share the responsibility and forge effective partnerships, such as we have done with Rhodes University,” says Diarmaid De Burca, SAB General Manager Newlands and iBhayi Brewery.
A Sustainable Development Priority
Water is a global Sustainable Development priority for SAB and is of particular importance for the company’s operations in South Africa, a semi-arid, water scarce country.
By its very nature, brewing is a water-intensive process. The security of water into the future is critical to the survival of SAB as a business, as well as to the communities in which the company operates. The way in which the scarce resource is managed is therefore of vital importance.
Andre Fourie, SAB Head of Sustainable Development says: “As a leading socially responsible corporate, it is imperative that we take responsibility for the impact of our operations on the environment and communities in which we operate.”
“Globally, there is growing recognition of water shortages. The growth in world population, accelerated urbanisation and the pollution of water sources will combine to become a major threat to the quality and quantity of water available to companies and people.”
SAB’s Water Strategy is driven by the company’s Sustainable Development Priority to ‘make more beer, using less water’. The strategy takes on a comprehensive risk-based approach in managing water within the business and value chain and is based on the five all important ‘R’s’:
– Recycle and
To date, the company has made good progress on this front. Its water efficiency has improved by 8% over the past two years to an average of 4.1 litres of water per 1 litre of beer produced.
Where SAB has control over water management practices i.e. within the brewery, the company ranks amongst the world’s leaders in terms of responsible water management during the brewing process.
Key imperatives in driving water efficiency for SAB include:
– Reducing water ratio from 4.1 to 3.6 by 2015, a 13% reduction
– Improving effluent discharge quality to meet legislature by investing at a brewery level or improving municipal operations
– Engaging with key suppliers to understand their manufacturing water efficiency relative to best-in-class and their improvement plans
Further to this, SAB exercises strict control and management of the quality of discharge water at the end of the production cycle.
Other strategic partnerships
But its efforts to conserve and manage water resources go beyond the brewery. SAB has forged a number of strategic partnerships to assist with the conservation of water into the future.
A Water Neutral partnership was developed between SAB and the WWF, which will see the company’s iBhayi Brewery in Port Elizabeth and Newlands in Cape Town becoming close to water neutral.
In addition, Let the River Flow is a partnership between SAB, the Mafube Municipality, Department of Water Affairs and the River Trust to rehabilitate the Wilge River in the Free State. The programme’s aim is to clear the 315 kilometre long river of massive debris which has built up over a decade, blocking the flow of its water while also preventing communities from accessing quality drinking water.
Rehabilitating the river is critical for the continued livelihood of millions of South Africans. The Wilge River is the primary source of water for more than 57 000 people living in the immediate Mafube Municipal district. In addition to this, members of communities surrounding Mafube are also dependent on the river’s water.
Neglecting the river has the potential to cause even further devastation. Added to the dependency of nearby communities, at least 12 million people living in the province of Gauteng rely on water from the Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highlands feeding into the Vaal River basin via the Wilge River. The supply of water from the Wilge river therefore has long term consequences on the South African economy.
To date, approximately 20 kilometres of the river has been cleared of debris through the Let the River Flow programme. The added benefit of this is that wood collected from the river is cut and delivered to nearby communities for their day-to-day use. Many are reliant on this wood for purposes such as cooking and heating.