Intel aims to make matches for wastewater heaven

Intel aims to make matches for wastewater heaven

For the past year, Intel has been doing its part to help make the perfect match. That is, in matching wastewater makers with wastewater users for the WaterMatch project.

Intel’s director of global citizenship, Gary Niekerk, describes the project as functioning potentially like an online dating site. But instead of having an interested couple meet up and seeing where things go, wastewater makers like agriculture or power companies could hook up with wastewater users like industrial facilities or treatment plants.

But obviously, making this dream happen is going to be a lot more complicated than getting two budding lovers together for coffee.

And so far, progress has been slow. Although the site has received plenty of hits from all over the world, said Niekerk, there has yet to be any documented successful matches.

The biggest problem is that getting data on wastewater treatment plants is incredibly hard. There is no national database for treatment facilities so gathering this kind of information requires laborious searches and calls to each individual plant.

Nevertheless, the wastewater project has made strides since Intel got involved a year ago. Niekerk said he became interested in the project after meeting with Jan Dell, vice president at consultant and construction firm CH2M Hill, which developed the project. But Niekerk noticed when he entered Temple, Ariz., the location where he lived, nothing came up. The map was practically empty.

So Intel decided to fund a grant for Arizona State University for students to do the grunt work of populating the map, starting with Arizona. There are now almost 200 of these sites listed on the map for Arizona.

Next, students at ASU are moving on to Mexico with funding from CH2M Hill. The project is also trying to draw other university students from around the world to help fill in more gaps.

And next month the project is bringing together leading water experts in the Colorado River basin to discuss the tool and how it might be improved.

Intel’s interest in this project stems from its own efforts to improve water sustainability in the company’s operations. Since 1998 Intel has invested $100 million in internal projects to make its water usage more sustainable in its manufacturing operations. The company has saved more than 40 billion gallons of water through its water reuse and efficiency measures.

“We have been thinking as a company about what we can do to increase water sustainability, especially in the places we operate,” said Niekerk.

In the company’s Arizona facilities, for example, it uses 2.6 million gallons of reclaimed water per day in its manufacturing process in things like scrubbers and cooling towers.

“This is a worldwide opportunity,” said Niekerk. “If you talk to water experts, increasing water reuse is an important way to increase water sustainability, because we’re not finding any new water.”

Photo of two swans provided by javaman via Shutterstock.