Improving water access
The global population is growing, and our economies have become increasingly industrialized over the centuries. As a result, 57% of all people live in cities today – and the trend towards greater urbanization is continuing. As people move from rural to high-density urban areas, the demand increases for better access to work, transportation, education and health, as well as social, cultural and political activities. Experts predict that by 2050, more than two thirds of the global population will live in cities. The development of safe energy supplies, modern health facilities and stable infrastructures for clean water are key to ensuring this shift will be successful.
Facts about urbanization
More than 4.3 billion people worldwide currently live in urban areas.
Estimates show, that by 2050, 68% of the world's population will live in urban areas.
The percentage of city inhabitants lacking safely managed drinking water has increased by more than 50% since 2000.
126 billion cubic meters of water is lost in pipes and valves during transport every year, enough to fill Lake Zurich 32 times over.
Sources: Statista, UN-Water, International Water Association
Using water resources sparingly
GF Piping Systems and Ekopak
While urban water management in Europe and North America is at a comparatively high level, drinking water supplies in some areas of Africa, Asia or Latin America are no longer enough to supply a steadily growing population. GF Piping Systems is helping its Belgian customer Ekopak to develop a practical solution for using water resources in industry and households as sparingly as possible.
Anyone who looks into the subject of water will come across impressive figures: 2.5% of water on Earth is fresh (drinkable) water. Expressed in liters, that would be 35 followed by 18 zeros. However, more than 126 billion cubic meters of drinking water are lost every year in the world due to leaks in pipes and valves during transport. That is enough water to fill Lake Zurich, the fifth largest lake in Switzerland, 32 times over.
Water is precious. We drink it, use it in our households, produce goods with it and then use it to transport those goods.
How can we make water consumption more sustainable?
Saving water is one way to make water consumption more sustainable. But industry, for example, uses certain production methods that require a huge quantity of water, much more than in private households. Chemicals, paper, metal and food production are just a few industries where companies rely on clean and high-quality water.
The Belgian company Ekopak is specialized in water treatment and recycling, both for industrial and municipal use. It offers customized and decentralized mobile systems in containers that treat water through reverse osmosis – a water purification process that removes 90–100% of pathogens, particles and bacteria. The purified water can then be reused. GF Piping Systems provides valves, actuators, measurement and control technology, pipes and fittings for the mobile containers – the equipment varies according to the requirements, but the average container bringing water where it is most needed features about 500 fittings, 80 valves and 20 sensors. Because fresh water and sewage water do not have to be transported over long distances but remain in a closed loop, decentralized water treatment saves a substantial amount of energy.
GF expert's view
How does GF Piping Systems help its customers contribute to greater sustainability?
We have in-depth experience in process automation, which, in addition to our expertise in traditional piping systems, allows us to offer a broad range of components that are used for more efficient and sustainable processes. Thanks to these, customers like Ekopak can monitor and control the water quality of their own customers around the clock. The valves and sensors designed for plastic piping systems are very light and durable, reducing both the logistical effort to move and replace them, and the impact on the environment. The piping systems are sourced from one provider, making planning even more simple.
How has GF contributed to the success of the relationship?
GF's R&D and engineering teams are able to respond to two major requirements for the systems in Ekopak's containers: firstly, we guarantee high quality products thanks to our outstanding innovation and production capabilities, and we ensure peace of mind thanks to the low maintenance and robustness while in use. At the same time, the systems need to be compact and light enough for transportation to the customer in a container. Using modern plastics and our engineering expertise, GF Piping Systems makes an important contribution to the partnership's success.
Why is the partnership of GF and Ekopak an answer to the challenges posed by urbanization?
Thanks to being able to remotely monitor our process automation technology, Ekopak has been able to develop "Water as a service" solutions that enable decentralized industrial water treatment. We're helping to solve water scarcity challenges linked to urbanization, protecting the environment from untreated industrial wastewater while giving companies full control over their water supply. GF and Ekopak have also taken action on fluctuating demand and are able to scale as needed so as not to waste energy.
"We have to switch to a circular economy, which is an economy of partnerships. This is what we believe in. We have the same ambition and share values of our partner GF."
Pieter Loose, CEO Ekopak
From Tielt near Ghent (Belgium), Ekopak supplies customers all over the world including food and textiles manufacturers as well as chemical and pharmaceutical companies. Municipalities, from rural to urban areas, are also among Ekopak's customers. They use the containers, for example, to install temporary drinking water supplies or for crisis support. Ekopak recently delivered 140 energy self-sufficient containers, equipped with solar panels and chemical waste purification, to dry areas in Africa for drinking water treatment.
"Drinking water is basically the lowest quality level of treated water," says Sandra Schiller, Head of Process Automation & Global Product Management in the Industry Business Unit at GF Piping Systems. "While people can deal with slight fluctuations in water quality, companies in the process industry or food production require a much higher and constant water quality. This places completely different demands on the containers." GF Piping Systems and Ekopak have been working together successfully since 2007. "By listening to each other, we can gain more knowledge about sustainable applications in water treatment and continuously improve our solutions," Schiller says.
The elixir of life goes circular: How does it work?
Ekopak's containers are customized and decentralized mobile systems that treat water. Several sensors and valves at the intake, output and in between constantly monitor the water quality, which increases with every step. The challenge is to ensure consistent water quality, no matter how polluted the water is. The average Ekopak container features about 500 fittings, 80 valves and 20 sensors, all manufactured by GF. This infographic explains how the system works.
Read about GF’s other projects to sustain development in urban areas.
Helsinki wants to become the world's most sustainable urban region. This is the goal set by the Finnish capital's environmental authority HSY. The municipal body supplies drinking water as well as wastewater treatment and waste management services, and maintains the area's water piping network. As HSY's preferred partner, GF Piping Systems supplied HSY with polyethylene piping fittings for its water network maintenance and upgrade program. GF was the only bidder to meet HSY's challenging requirement to provide a comprehensive breakdown of CO2 emissions generated during the entire manufacturing and supply process.
Read about how GF Piping Systems made this happen.
Consumer goods are increasingly being ordered online, especially in urban areas. Logistics and distribution centers are booming, and can increasingly be seen outside of urban centers and at many highway exits. To ensure that the goods get from the sender to the recipient smoothly and quickly, intelligent and highly automated logistics systems are needed, such as those manufactured by Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics design company based in Waltham, MA (US). GF Casting Solutions is in close collaboration with Boston Dynamics to support it with an iron casting solution for a logistics robot that can move some 800 packages per hour. The component for the robot body was designed and simulated on a computer. GF Casting Solutions produced the prototype for preview using a 3D sand printer. This significantly accelerated the development in prototyping and simultaneously reduced the resources required for this process.
Learn more about prototyping using 3D printing at GF.
Our contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Through its collaboration with Ekopak, GF Piping Systems contributes to the achievement of:
UN SDG 3:
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
UN SDG 6:
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
UN SDG 9:
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
Learn more about GF and its contribution to the UN SDGs in the GF Sustainability Report.