Technological Centre

Valentín García Albiach: “Renewable energies – water treatment tandem is fundamental today”

Lantania Aguas, a Lantania Group company, collaborates with CETIM in projects focused on tertiary treatments for water reuse and on circular economy and efficiency of municipal WWTPs. Today we speak with Valentín García Albiach, Director of Public Works of Lantania Aguas, who has decades of experience in the treatment and management of the water cycle.

Since you have known the world of water, how do you see the evolution of the sector from the 90s to today?

I have been linked to this world for just over three decades, since 1988. In this time its evolution has been impressive. If we focus on the three major areas – drinking, waste and unconventional resources – the greatest advances have been in wastewater and desalination. Wastewater treatment plants have become increasingly autonomous water treatment plants with the capacity to generate the energy needed for treatment, which, in addition to great savings, frees up energy resources for other processes. In non-conventional treatments, desalination and regeneration, much progress has been made technologically, desalination plants are more efficient and the cost of desalinated water has been improved. Spain has become a desalination power with a global presence.

The amount of water that is regenerated and reused is increasing, although this resource focuses more on agriculture and urban uses such as garden irrigation and flushing. The biggest leap will be to use the reclaimed wastewater as mouth water. Currently there is a social rejection, the yuck factor, the disgusting effect that this water gives. In the end, it will be used if we do not have other sources to drink, since the technology exists, but there is a long way to go of awareness.

With CETIM you collaborate in projects focused on tertiary treatments for water reuse and on circular economy and efficiency of municipal WWTPs. Why do you think these projects are important?

I have always been an advocate and believer in wastewater regeneration. One of the engines of humanity is necessity, for years other sources of water have been used and it is when resources begin to run out when a use of these unconventional sources is proposed.  Necessity means that reclaimed water is used and the first consumer today is agriculture.  We talk about tertiary treatments and lately we are already with quaternary treatments, due to the high degree of quality and elimination of pollutants and micropollutants.

Lantania currently relies on CETIM in studies to improve the efficiency of both municipal WWTPs and desalination plants. How do you value collaboration with research organizations such as CETIM?

Innovation is a priority for Lantania, we develop large and small infrastructure projects through innovation, the use of advanced technologies, service and quality with the aim of always improving the quality of life and building a more sustainable world.  Connecting with a reference Technology Center such as CETIM, with which you can exchange and reflect on the technological issues of water treatment, and not only what we can propose from the company, but CETIM proposes new projects or new technologies that adapt to the criteria of Lantania, is something highly positive.  This open collaboration is essential, because it works, and very well.

“Desalination will be fundamental as drinking water and regeneration will be for agriculture, without ruling out a possible use of consumption”

It will be key for the sector to face the new climate and water reality. Do you think water reuse and desalination technologies will be crucial to tackling global warming and water scarcity?

Technology exists and is continuously improving.  Desalination is accepted as a technology for mouth water and the only problem is the cost of production, which is being reduced. A goal of lowering the 2Kw/m3 of energy cost for desalination has already been set and everything indicates that its achievement is close.

The tandem renewable energies – water treatment is considered fundamental.  Water is an essential product for the generation of hydrogen so, if there is no water, green hydrogen can be complicated. Desalination becomes a necessary technology, as does the possible reuse of reclaimed water, for the generation of hydrogen.  A water treatment plant can also be converted into an energy generating plant by producing hydrogen, without forgetting that oxygen production is of great relevance in water treatment processes.

Desalination plants are getting bigger and, therefore, consume a lot of energy, even improving efficiency and necessary a contribution through renewable energies that suppose significant needs of available space. We also have the problem of the generation of brine, the larger the desalination plant, the greater the generation of said brine and the greater the possible affection to the environment. Now technically and economically viable solutions are sought, such as brine mining with a use of lithium or magnesium.  Apart from defining what the best technology is, it is essential to make a hydraulic policy, according to the needs, geographies, industries and sectors affected; and  see how to manage the waters in a coherent way and not subject to political options or positions. Water requires a common policy.

Looking ahead, how do you see the next two decades of the water sector?

Water is always going to be a relevant sector, it is one of the basic resources for life and it is also part of the economy.  This is how we understand it at Lantania and that is why we have made a strong strategic commitment to this sector, acquiring companies such as Grupo Soil and Deisa and launching two years ago a desalination division that has already placed us among the main suppliers of desalination plants in the world.  Looking to the future, desalination technologies will be crucial, in fact, they already are, as the evolution towards drier climates is a reality.  Desalination will be essential as drinking water and regeneration will be for agriculture, without ruling out a possible use of consumption.

What do you think innovation has contributed and will contribute to the evolution of the water sector?

Innovation has helped improve treatment costs. All treatments have undergone technological advances that have allowed to reduce energy consumption, the use of waste as a resource, reducing GHG emissions. In essence, innovation is the engine of the circular economy.  We live in a time when much of the efforts are focused on the digitalization of water treatment plants and I am not saying that it should not be done, but we cannot ignore the continuous improvement of technology, which is what will allow us to continue advancing in process improvement.  Innovation is necessary and must go hand in hand with progress. Without innovation there is no progress, indeed, it must go ahead, anticipate what is to come.

One aspect that limits innovation is the lack of legislation. Laws should go hand in hand with innovation so as not to generate delays in the implementation of new products and processes. In this sense, for example, micropollutants are a problem that is being worked on, as in other lines and new processes, and should not be left behind.

Not only do we have to talk about innovation in large processes and plants, we cannot forget the small populations that have to comply with sanitation requirements at an adequate cost. In addition to innovating in processes, it must be done in management, and digitization helps a lot there, but in its right measure. In small-town plants, digitalization may not be an appropriate option, but integrated management is. In Spain we have, or can have, a problem of competences between acting administrations that can complicate a more efficient management and cause delays in the execution of infrastructures.

In short, innovation cannot be seen in isolation. Proper management, in which no conflicts of competence are generated, can also be described as innovative management. We must have a broader vision of the concept and not limit it to the technical and technological part. In small municipalities they suffer abandonment and transfer to larger populations. In this type of plants, for example, we should also talk about social innovation.

En detalle

Lantania Aguas, a company of the Lantania Group, is a company with extensive experience in projects related to the integral water cycle such as desalination plants, treatment and purification of urban and industrial water and all types of hydraulic infrastructures. The company, present  in nine countries, carries out all the works associated with the integral water cycle from collection, purification, distribution and purification to the return of treated water to natural channels,  with skills in design, construction and operation.