At WEFTEC 2015, the premier event for the water and wastewater industry, I am one of the many professionals here to report on current trends and learn about new technologies that the pump industry is embracing. On the very first day, I was moved to investigate one company that is sharing a message of delivering “inspired solutions for a changing world”. I went to Booth #2248 to speak with Phil Rolchigo, Ph.D, Pentair’s Vice President of Technology. Our brief Q&A session revealed that there is a great deal of innovation and action behind those words.
Pentair makes such a wide range of products for an array of industries – municipal, chemical, commercial, agriculture, residential; the list goes on! What is the overall goal of the company?
Phil Rolchigo: We are really focusing on developing pumping and filtration solutions which enable the end user to meet their goals to reduce, recover, and reuse water. The world population is growing and that presents challenges; i.e. how do you feed our growing world? How do you supply energy to the population? How do you deliver quality water to the masses? These are the big challenges we face on a global level, so much of our strategy is focused on creating solutions to support actions which address these bigger issues.
How is the world of wastewater “changing”?
Phil: People are reducing the amount of water they use, which is a good thing, but now they are actually sending more concentrated wastewater to the treatment plant, which is a challenge for the wastewater treatment plants. The result of reduced water usage means they have to pump more sludgy material, which puts a whole different constraint and demand on the types of pumps they need to process that waste. Their pumps now have to move all this fibrous material all the way through the treatment process, but the great thing is that our solutions are helping them reuse their water internally. They’re gaining the ability to take water that comes in, use it twice, and reduce their footprint two-fold. The neat thing about combining filtration with pumping technology and wastewater treatment is that you start to realize that wastewater is not waste, it’s a resource.
What is the biggest challenge for the pump industry?
Phil: Energy. The pump industry has been chasing energy issues for a long time, and the industry as a whole seems to be doing a lot better in that area. We have developed solutions that are specifically designed to help the end user with energy savings. One example includes the anaerobic wastewater digesters that we have connected with our membrane technology to generate high levels of methane that can then be reused to get the wastewater treatment plant to energy neutral. So all those pumps moving the wastewater and all those blowers keeping the microbiology of the wastewater active, by combining the membranes, we make that process more efficient, capture the methane, burn the methane through a generator, and power the plant. We also collaborated with the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA to develop Energy Star® industry standards for pool pumps, which is the 2nd largest consumer of energy in a home. Since 2005, Pentair’s Eco-Select pool pumps have saved 2.1 billion kilowatts, which is the equivalent of 73,000 homes’ energy use for a single year. It’s funny how we can lounge in a swimming pool and not even realize that we have an opportunity to save energy. We took that opportunity to innovate and created a smart pump and filter system to not only keep people’s pools clean, but to create yet another way to save energy.
What are your predictions for the future of pumps?
Phil: In addition to energy, the next biggest operating cost of a wastewater treatment plant is unplanned equipment failure. If your pumps go down and it was not planned, you have a problem. A very costly problem. I believe we will ultimately see the industry move toward pumps that are smart. I think we will move away from steam-controlled “on” / “off” equipment to having much more intelligent pumps that tell you how they’re working. We want to be able to predict when they will fail and then avoid that failure. The next big challenge for the industry is to create pumps that tell you two weeks ahead of time that that pump is having an issue and maintenance should be scheduled before that pump can go down and wreak havoc for the operation. Pentair currently has a line of sump pumps that are smart, so the pump will tell you if it’s running by your smart phone. That sump pump communicates with your smart phone to tell you “ok I’m running, or hey, I’m not running!” Knowing the sump pump in a home is going to work the way it should gives the homeowner the confidence that flooding will be avoided. So having a smart pump means preventing unwanted failure, and I believe that will become a bigger trend over the next 15 years.
Pumps are everywhere and they are vital to human life. We cannot survive without technology. It is fascinating to me to see the variety of pump products that are developed to solve problems and improve sustainability around the world. I am excited to watch Pentair make equipment that inspires solutions for our changing world.
Visit their website at www.pentair.com or stop by Booth #2248 at WEFTEC 2015 for a close-up look!