Water stress and stricter standards driving Suez's business in Mexico.

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, March 01, 2022
Water stress and stricter standards driving Suez's business in Mexico.

Due to water stress in various parts of Mexico and the lack of solutions to boost supplies, the installation of treatment plants to enable water recycling is becoming increasingly important.

Suez Water Technologies, which has been operating in Latin America for more than 80 years, intends to take advantage of this in order to implement an aggressive growth plan in Mexico.

BNamericas spoke to the company's commercial director for Latin America, Max Santavicca, who said that Suez plans to double the number of treatment plants it builds and operates in the country.

BNamericas: What are you most often asked to do in Mexico or what is most needed?

Santavicca: That's related to compliance with the new water discharge legislation. This is an issue that is going to be increasingly important, where industries have to prepare to comply with standard NOM 001, which was approved last year, while the other issue is obviously water stress. 

[Editor's note: Official Mexican Standard NOM-001-SEMARNAT-2021 establishes permissible limits for pollutants in wastewater discharged into state-owned bodies of water, meaning that the the parameters will be considerably stricter, signifying that wastewater treatment must be considerably improved]  

Many of the areas of the country that are suffering from drought are seeking solutions so they don't have to depend on municipal water or other sources. The issue of reuse remains an effective alternative in some areas.

There are issues related to environmental compliance, the concept of ESG [environmental, social and corporate governance], and that has a relationship with environmental compliance, energy efficiency and the circular economy, where the concept of reuse is very important.

BNamericas: What changes has the NOM 001 legislation led to?

Santavicca: There are stronger restrictions on the parameters for [wastewater] discharges into bodies of water and that means that many industries have to modernize their plants. This also leads to the issue of water reuse, because if I have to make an investment to comply with the new environmental standard, I'll also try to discharge as little [wastewater] as possible. 

Water reuse isn't something that reaches 100%. You can generally reach high levels of reuse, like 70%, which is very good, but with the remaining 30%, you have to discharge it in compliance with these parameters and that leads to investment requirements. However, many companies currently aren't complying, so they're working with us to find alternatives and to see what requirements they have. It's a restriction that's designed to benefit the environment.

BNamericas: What is the range of capex for projects of this kind being carried out in Mexico?

Santavicca: Historically, we've had lots, from municipal projects to projects with Pemex, the construction of refinery plants for Pemex. And Chapultepec, which is a project with Conagua, where the reuse concept is very advanced because the water is treated with membrane technology that uses biological treatment to reinject it into the Mexico City aquifer. That's an emblematic project. 

There are regulatory issues that are appearing in Mexico that can affect this situation, but technically that's something that can already be used. We worked last year with very large clients [on projects] that had capex of almost US$100mn. For example, we have seven membrane plants for reuse with Pepsico and they already complied with NOM 001 before its implementation due to internal company policies.

BNamericas: In what other industries do you see growth potential for the concept of water reuse?

Santavicca: Mexico is one of the main markets we have in the region with growth potential. There are many things that are changing, mainly in the food and beverage industry. These are medium-sized projects, in the range of US$5mn, but very innovative projects are also being tried in Mexico, such as using wastewater for production. This is already carried out for washing potatoes. In this industry the water often undergoes anaerobic treatment to reduce the waste load, and now something very innovative is being studied, which is to use treated water for the final product.

BNamericas: What are the company's long-term goals?

Santavicca: We have a very aggressive growth plan in Mexico. One of the areas that we want to improve is services. We're talking about the fact that in five years we'll have more than double the number of plants [400]. When I talk about services, I'm referring specifically to this type of relationship where we integrate long-term value with the provision of expertise for the operation of plants with supply of technology, with the concept of performance where the client is guaranteed that the plant will work as designed. 

The issue of new solutions for industrial plants is very important due to the issue of water reuse or for biogas generation, which obliges us to implement new technologies. A lot of investment will be needed in the energy area in Mexico. The oil area is another with growth potential where we're making bets, as well as in the recovery of minerals in the mining market. The petrochemical industry also has growth opportunities and the concepts of advanced technology, ESG, circular economy and energy efficiency are all issues that this entails.

BNamericas: What new technologies are you exploring?

Santavicca: When we talk about advanced technologies, membranes are the core of what's done in these plants, so the reactor is one of the keys for water reuse projects because it allows you to produce high-quality water and that's often associated with ultrafiltration technology that may or may not be associated with biological treatment, ozone, the area of advanced anaerobic digestion treatment, which are the main technologies used in this market.

BNamericas: How long have you been operating in Latin America?

Santavicca: We have been in the region for more than 80 years and have extensive experience: We've designed and built more than 200 plants in Mexico alone and more than 1000 in Latin America (500 in Brazil), both municipal and industrial. 

Suez Water Technologies is the industrial arm of Suez and we're very focused on that, but there's also a growing trend of using advanced technology to produce potable water, for municipal wastewater treatment, and in the municipal market advanced treatment membrane technology continues to grow strongly.

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