The Wide World of Water Treatment

By Mike Henley

wastewater treatment


For sports aficionados, there are many opportunities to keep up with your favorite team or sport—whether by the Internet, print media, or broadcast programs. Like sports, the water world is multifaceted and one only needs to attend a few different industry conferences to gain an appreciation for the variety and wide ranging needs and concerns among endusers. Conferences, as well as reading Global Water Intelligence, Water Desalination Report, and Ultrapure Water are ways of staying informed.

Our editorial commentary from June discussed the Ultrapure Water Conference (June 7-8 in Austin, TX). This year’s event featured two co-located events with separate programs—UPW Micro and UPW Pharma. Each focused on the respective treatment needs for microelectronics water, and pharmaceutical/life sciences water. For example, semiconductor fabs are highly concerned about particles and dissolved contaminants and the threats they pose to microchips. Conversely, a pharmaceutical plant needs treated UPW that is free of viruses, bacteria, endotoxins, and pyrogens, and is also concerned about complying with treatment standards as developed by pharmacopeias. Each industry uses high-purity water, or UPW, but with different quality requirements.

In early September a colleague and I attended the Association of Water Technologies (AWT) annual conference conducted in San Diego. At this conference, we entered another segment of the “Wide World of Water”. The AWT conference has a completely different constituency whose interests include boiler, cooling (including treatment to prevent Legionella), and wastewater. Another important role of the AWT since its founding has been to provide a place for smaller regional and family-owned businesses.

Earlier in the year, we had the opportunity to visit the Water Quality Association (WQA) conference, which focuses on residential drinking (e.g., softeners, small RO) and commercial water), and the AWWA/AMTA Membrane Technology Conference.

These different conferences represent some of the diversity in the water business. But, beyond them, there are many other exhibitions and conferences that touch on even other areas. The Produced Water Society is concerned with water issues in oil and natural gas production and exploration, while the American Water Works Association uniquely touches municipal drinking water. For its part, the International Desalination Association represents seawater desalination. There are also a number of notable international trade shows known for their extensive exhibitions. Examples include Singapore International Water Week and the Aquatech exhibitions (including Amsterdam, China, and India). We should also note that the annual Global Water Summit and American Water Summit (this Dec. 6-7) offer attendees the opportunity learn about the water business itself.

The point of this discussion is to illustrate that water treatment today touches a wide spectrum. In simplistic terms, one can think of water treatment as the chemical adjustment of water to minimize or avoid corrosion and scaling, and for biocontrol. As one moves toward high-purity water, the treatment aim is to physically separate contaminants from the water through technologies like ion exchange (including electrodeionization) and membranes/filters (microfiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultrafiltration).

In closing, the chart below uses an umbrella to illustrate the makeup of the larger world of water treatment. The point of this illustration is to provide a picture of the “Wide World of Water Treatment”. We are interested in your thoughts for additions to this chart.

Untitled Document

Industrial Users


Natural Resources Development 

Power generators: traditional fossil, combined cycle (integrated gasification and gas turbine), industrial (captive power), waste-to-energy,

Microelectronics (semiconductors, flat panel display, solar)

Oil and gas exploration

Pulp and paper

Pharmaceutical/Life Sciences (biopharmaceutical/healthcare devices, cosmetics, consumer products, biotechnology)

Mining (including ore concentration)

Oil refining: upstream, mid-stream, downstream (refining and petrochemical)

Power plants with supercritical or sub-critical boilers (fossil, combined cycle, nuclear stations)


Metal processing:(steel mills, aluminum, copper)

Specialty (commercial labs, research labs, universities)

Other Uses

Food processing/beverage


Environmental: site cleanup

General manufacturing (e.g., automotive, plastic molding, others)


Ballast water


Drinking water

Specialty: naval ships, cruise liners

Commercial/institutional (e.g., universities, hospitals, large commercial buildings)



Biofuel processing



Industrial wastewater


Industrial, institutional, commercial

Material recovery

Municipal, industrial, natural resources (mining)


This chart seeks to provide an overview of areas using and treating water. We welcome suggestions of areas that should be added.

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