"Plants are built and put into operation but, following a lack of interest or money, they run inefficiently or are simply shut down"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wastewater treatment in Mexico continues at an average level of 40%, despite a full market. A mix of small national companies and municipal governments dominate the sector, while a few international high-end technology companies are trying to break in.

Although competition for new projects is fierce, wastewater treatment is still patchy in coverage and many existing plants are left to gather dust due to a lack of investment in technology or maintenance.

BNamericas spoke with Flavio Hernández, product manager of industrial gas provider Cryoinfra, about the lack of resources impeding the industry and the reasons behind the large numbers of abandoned wastewater treatment plants.

BNamericas: How are your wastewater treatment systems different from those offered by other companies?

Hernández: We provide gases for industrial use. Unlike other companies, we use pure oxygen to remove organic material in wastewater. 

BNamericas: What are the advantages of this method?

Hernández: The oxygenation process allows you to treat more water in less time and to increase the capacity of existing wastewater treatment plants.  If a customer already has a plant, our process is the most cost-effective way to increase capacity without the need for further construction.

The process is also useful in tourist areas where demand for wastewater treatment fluctuates throughout the year. The level of oxygen in a plant can be increased to meet the larger demand during high season and reduced again during low season.

BNamericas: Is the system more expensive than biological treatment using air?

Hernández: We have studies that prove that when treating specific quantities of water, the oxygenation process is competitive with if not equal to other methods of treatment. Our process also demands lower electricity consumption and that translates into cost savings.

BNamericas: Who are your main clients?

Hernández: We sell to the government and private companies. We exclusively assess the introduction of gas into industrial processes - we don't build wastewater treatment plants ourselves but work within a wider team.

BNamericas: Wastewater treatment levels in Mexico are 40% on average. Why do you think the rate is so low?

Hernández: The Mexican market is lagging behind in terms of technology and regulation in comparison with other countries. However, there are many companies and some sectors of government that are very interested in increasing wastewater treatment levels. Unfortunately, the gap between those at the vanguard of the industry and those lagging behind is much larger than in other countries.

There are some companies in Mexico that have the financial weight and high-end technology to enable them to treat water effectively. But very few companies have the necessary resources, infrastructure or financial backing.

BNamericas: What can the government do to support the industry?

Hernández: Education and training are fundamental to push the industry forward. The government is trying but, like all developing countries, governments have priorities and they are not giving this sector the priority it requires.

BNamericas: There are a lot of wastewater treatment plants across the country that have been abandoned or unable to operate due to maintenance issues. Why do you think this is?

Hernández: There are laws that require construction of wastewater treatment plants per specified numbers of people, or following new residential projects or industrial parks. The plants are built and put into operation but, following a lack of interest or a lack of money, they run inefficiently or are simply shut down.

The problem is that they are built and operated in the main by small and medium-sized companies that don't have the resources to maintain the plants in the long term. These companies focus on paying their employees and they have little left over to invest in new technology or maintenance.

BNamericas: Municipal water utilities have been heavily criticized for their inability to provide efficient wastewater treatment. Why is this?

Hernández: As in all countries, there are people and organizations that operate in a professional manner and are able to deliver a certain standard of work. At the same time there are those who do not try to deliver high quality work or resist the introduction of new technologies.

BNamericas: Would increased private involvement improve the situation?

Hernández: If wastewater treatment is carried out solely by private companies there's often a reduction in quality in pursuit of profit. I think the state governments should also be involved and be vigilant of the quality of the service being provided.

A combination of both government and private companies would be the most appropriate solution, but the government definitely needs to introduce clear rules about how this should work.

BNamericas: Is there a large market for the reuse of treated wastewater in Mexico?

Hernández: Treated water is reused for agricultural purposes but, in general, there is no culture of water reuse in Mexico. It has only been a few years since certain parts of the country began separating household garbage.

We have a long way to go in this area but fortunately, attitudes are starting to change.

About the company

Cryoinfra has provided gases to the food, wastewater treatment and various heavy industries for over 90 years.