U.S. Water News Online
FAJARDO, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico supports a large
pharmaceutical manufacturing infrastructure. With favorable tax
incentives and a sophisticated communications and transportation
system, many of the most prescribed medicines in the U.S. are
manufactured in Puerto Rico.
Like most islands with modern infrastructure and manufacturing,
Puerto Rico faces a finite supply of resources -- especially water.
The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer has a leading manufacturing presence
in Puerto Rico, with five plants employing more than 5,500 people
that produce some of the company's top selling medications including
Celebrex, Lipitor, Neurontin, Norvasc, Zoloft, and Zithromax.
At its facility in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Pfizer, initiated a water
conservation and waste minimization program with a goal of reusing
100 percent of its wastewater.
Efficient water reuse system
In its drive towards making the plant a zero discharge facility,
Pfizer originally installed a reverse osmosis (RO) to treat process
water before returning it to non-potable water uses. The RO system
was installed to reduce the volume of discharge water -- 50,000
gallons per day - that previously had to be loaded up in tankers
around the clock and trucked to a municipal waste treatment facility
about two hours away.
The water supply to the Fajardo plant comes from surface water
originating from the nearby Yunque rain forest. Before entering the
plant, the water undergoes conventional treatment from the
In 2002, Pfizer contacted ITT Industries' Aquious unit to discuss
their wastewater treatment scheme. Pfizer was extremely displeased
with the operation of their existing RO system. Installed without a
thorough engineering analysis, the RO system never operated correctly
from the start.
According to Mainor Vega, Products Manager for Latin America and
the Caribbean with ITT Aquious' Water Equipment Technologies unit,
headquartered in Boynton Beach, Florida, "When we visited the plant
for the first time, they had a waste bin filled with old membranes.
The customer was buying membranes on a monthly basis due to the
inefficiency of the existing RO system, which resulted in
astronomical operational costs."
Two-stage system recommended
The customer was seeking to replace and improve their existing RO
system. After analyzing the complete process, ITT's engineers
proposed an ultrafiltration system followed by a dual reverse osmosis
system. The ultra-filtration system would provide a quality of feed
water for the RO system that would allow for ease of operation and
the best life cycle cost of the equipment.
At the Pfizer plant, the wastewater originates from the sanitary
processes, the cafeteria and the cooling towers. There are many
concerns when trying to recycle wastewater. For the RO system at this
site, one of the biggest concerns was the level of silica in the
The waste stream is first sent through a 13,000-gallon capacity
clarification process. From that clarification process, the
wastewater moves into a secondary effluent tank. In many facilities,
this is where the waste treatment process would stop and discharge
would take place into local waterways or be sent for further
processing at a municipal wastewater treatment plant, depending on
From the secondary effluent tank, the wastewater is processed
through a multilayer sand filtration system.
ITT's engineers analyzed the sand filtration system to make sure
that the media loads inside the tank were correct and that all valves
for the automatic operation of the system were operating correctly.
From the media filtration, the wastewater enters ITT's UF system.
This pretreatment is important for the UF system to operate
properly. The main purpose of having the UF system is for reduction
of turbidity and SDI. The RO membranes would not operate for long
without this layer of protection.
The system ITT installed at the plant included a 50,000-gpd UF
system and a 30,000 gpd RO system. The UF system takes care of
suspended and colloidal matter and acts as a barrier to provide a
quality of water to where the RO membrane system can operate
The UF system contains hollow fiber style membranes that go
through a series of flush cycles during the day (up to 200 cycles per
day) to keep the process water from sticking to the UF membranes. The
result of the UF treatment is to lower the SDI and provide good
quality water to the RO membranes.
From the UF system, the treated water goes to a 1000-gallon
filtration tank where a set of repressure pumps feed it to the RO
system with the addition of pretreatment chemicals.
ITT designed and installed two 30,000 gpd RO systems on a single
chassis to provide the customer with redundancy.
In this lead-lag approach, the RO system receives a signal from
the permeate tank and a computer would direct one or the other RO
system to turn on so that there is an even wear across the system. In
addition, ITT also designed the RO system with low fouling membranes.
This not only provides an additional level of security for the
customer, but allows the customer to process water without the use of
the UF system in case of an emergency.
In an RO system, pressure is applied to push water molecules
across a membrane to overcome the osmonic pressure. As the purified
water ions go across the membrane, any ions that have a high
molecular weight (anything over 200 molecular weight) are rejected.
There are, however, some specific ions that will be rejected at a
higher rate and some at a lower rate.
Efficient system lowers operating costs
Leaving the RO system, the customer has a quality of water that
returns to the cooling tower. In the cooling tower you normally have
cycles of concentration. The amounts of cycles are dependent on the
quality of the make-up and process stream. With the purified permeate
water from the RO process blended with the normal cooling tower water
supply; the customer was able to take the cycles of concentration up
to new levels of efficiency.
From a previous total of 50,000 gallon of wastewater per day, the
reject from the RO -- now only 8,000 gpd -- will go to a holding tank
and from there into a tanker that takes it to a larger waste
treatment facility. With a fraction of the wastewater now being
disposed, the customer is realizing a tremendous reduction from the
half million dollars a year that they were spending on tanker truck
As it continues to drive towards zero discharge, the customer is
looking at new ways to reduce these 8,000 gallons per day of
discharge by evaporation or heat to just a few pounds of solids.
Because the old RO system was operating so inefficiently, the
customer had significant costs for membrane replacement. Chemical
costs were also high because the customer was using anti-scalants at
a high rate to keep their membranes from fouling. The UF/RO system
installed by ITT has been operating since 2002 and the RO membranes
have not been changed once. With the addition of the UF system in
front of the RO process also greatly reduces the fouling tendencies.
The facility is also using much less power to run the system. Vega
notes that, "The old system was designed to operate at 400 to 500
psi. Our RO system is operating at 105 to 107 psi." That huge
reduction in pressure provides the customer with significant energy
There are some additional pumps that are run with the UF system,
but because the UF typically runs at about 15 psi, the additional
energy costs are small.
Vega notes that, "With growing zero discharge regulations, we
provide solutions for treating effluent that provides excellent water
quality for non-potable water uses." In addition to providing systems
for water reclaim, ITT's Aquious unit has installed numerous
microfiltration, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration and RO system to
purify water for use in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals.
About ITT Aquious
ITT's Aquious unit is a complete global membrane treatment
solution provider for desalination, surface water and industrial
process solutions. Its range of products and technologies include
desalination, treatment of surface water, reuse and industrial
process separation. Aquious has over 35 years of combined experience
in membrane flirtation with over 500 reference installations in more
than 30 countries.
For more information: http://www.aquious.com
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