HARD-PRESSED: Ethanol Production Helps Water

Covid-19 has affected our lives in ways that many have predicted: social distancing, economic strain, excess burden on our healthcare systems, and of course, great loss of life. However, few could have predicted some of the secondary effects that are now being felt. Among the most surprising is how our water can remain “hard” if not afforded enough CO2 to treat it. But what does carbon dioxide water treatment have to do with Covid-19? Well, the explanation has something of a tortured path.

Due to the viral epidemic, people everywhere are staying indoors—some, by order of our governing bodies—which has led to a dramatic decrease in car traffic. Since limited traffic means limited demand for fuel, fuel manufacturers don’t need anywhere near the amount of ethanol needed to produce that fuel. Therefore, some ethanol and biodiesel companies like those located in Iowa—the nation’s biggest producing state of biodiesel—have stopped production.

Okaaay...you’re probably hoping there’s more to the story. Well, there is. Producing ethanol also yields carbond dioxide as a byproduct which is then bought by water utilities to treat their water. Therefore, if ethanol plants have stopped operating, there becomes a shortage of CO2 supply. Without the gas, the pH value of water can’t be lowered and therefore it remains hard. That isn’t to suggest that the water isn’t safe for consumption or cleaning, it just makes for a significant drop in quality. That was the reality facing one water utility company in Des Moines, Iowa until a deactivated energy company in Nevada caught wind of their dilemma and decided to reactivate their operations. Thanks to their sympathetic general manager, enough carbon dioxide was produced to return Des Moines Water Works to normal production.

The treatment process to soften water begins with limewater being added to the water supply which raises the pH value and causes dissolved calcium and magnesium to coagulate and sink to the bottom of the tank. This makes the water hard which affects its taste and the effectiveness of soaps and shampoos. Both materials can be removed easily, but it’s the carbon dioxide that is pumped in after the removal that reduces the pH value which softens the water and makes it drinkable. At that point the water passes through a filtration process where nitrates are removed and it becomes disinfected.

Prior to the CO2 rescue, the shortage was creating a challenge for pollution control directors who began making plans for stretching the supply. Calls for residents to conserve water and bans of outdoor water activities were being put in place. Even new strategies for lowering the pH value using acid were being considered, albeit reluctantly, which would require the installation of new equipment and locating a large supply of the dangerous component. Luckily, with only days worth of carbon dioxide left in some facilities, trucks arrived with thousands of pounds of CO2 - up to 8 weeks worth. The shipment eliminated the need to search outside the region for spare CO2 from sources like large breweries and absorbing the massive cost of shipping. Costs for the current carbon dioxide shipments are higher than normal, but the price is worth it to be back in business.

Graver has also joined the fight to help keep the world safer and is working closely with several companies that are busy making surface and hand sanitizers. One manufacturer representative said that they received the filtration products they needed  “in record time”. Graver Stratum A and TPE-S Filters have been rushed to companies producing ethanol based cleaners for police, fire, postal workers, hospitals and homeless shelters.

For more information Graver Water Treatment products, click here.