Thought leadership

Save groundwater and start drinking wastewater

You can turn wastewater straight into drinking water instead of taking a detour through nature. That seems like a bold statement for the average person, but in reality, it is something a lot of professionals are looking into already.

By Jörg Vogel, VP of Open Innovation

Whenever we are drinking water, we almost instantly think about groundwater. But if I told you astronauts are drinking their own purified urine and sweat, you may raise an eyebrow. This is something we should see happening on earth sooner rather than later. When we talk about our accomplishments in space and how it is at the forefront of technology, there is no reason why we cannot use the exact same principles here on earth. For the greater good.

Astronauts have a saying “yesterday’s coffee is today’s coffee” – and we should be thinking about water the same way. At Aquaporin, we have a mature technology that is allowing us to reuse wastewater and drink it straight away after being filtered by our membranes.

To me, it is more a question of why we are doing projects like this in space without applying the knowledge in real life. People should start considering that direct reuse is viable, and that it can help us preserve more of our precious groundwater.  Let me state it in a clear way; we do not need to be afraid of recycled water, we should rather embrace it. Let me tell you why.

Tapping into the water reuse technology

In Denmark, we have no second thoughts about using groundwater. In Mexico City, the groundwater is depleting to a level that the city is sinking a little every year. Here in Denmark, we are not allowed to filter groundwater, even though we discovered contaminants like PFAS and pesticides. Instead, we are still drinking the water after lowering the levels of contaminants by mixing water from different groundwater areas. This process has raised a question in my head that I cannot let go of – why not use our wastewater which we are already treating and have total control over instead of the polluted groundwater?

What we see here in Denmark is that we are shutting down groundwater wells because of high levels of contamination. In contrast, by recycling water we could ensure good quality drinking water.

As with everything in life, there is always the question of price. I am aware it is not cheap to save and preserve the resources we have available in the world, but it is part of our green transition and the added sustainability we wish to achieve. It is an investment in the future we must accept both as companies also as humans.

Understanding and accepting

When you travel around the world, you see a lot of people swearing by bottled water instead of tap water. It should not be like that. Drinking water from the tap is often cheaper and better for the environment than the millions upon millions of plastic bottles ending up in nature. At Aquaporin, we strive to ensure the quality of tap water using our unique membrane solution that allows people around the world to start using their tap even more.

Whenever we treat wastewater, we measure it on a lot of different parameters, and through those measurements, it is safe to assume it comes out as perfectly fine drinking water. If you look at desalination plants, nobody has a problem with drinking water from those, but in theory treating wastewater is not that different from cleaning water from desalination plants.

If we are going back into space, so to speak, we do not have any astronauts getting sick from drinking their own wastewater. The taste is not different, so the big challenge ahead of us is to educate people that it is perfectly fine to drink recycled water.

This will take time, but we also know that groundwater is a limited resource. Populations everywhere are growing, and we will experience lack of groundwater in many regions which leads me back to my initial question; now we are mixing groundwater from different drilling sites to reach an acceptable level of drinkability, but wouldn’t you rather drink clean recycled water?

Published on September 22 in