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Bright, shiny, with a metallic finish... The man stops for a moment and enjoys looking at his reflection in the car’s bodywork, while he works to make the vehicle look as if it has just left the factory. In Norwood Park, a Chicago suburb with detached houses and a relaxed atmosphere, the ritual - shared with the family, like watching the Bulls and the White Sox play - is repeated every Sunday morning. Satisfied, the man works conscientiously, but also consciously: without wasting water, without using chemical products that would contaminate the environment, without using more energy than that coming from his own muscles and his own determination.
But the reasons for his satisfaction go much further. Before deciding what make and model to buy he carried out a careful study of many of the details hidden behind the production of a car. And he made some very interesting discoveries. For example, the large amounts of water needed to make something as solid looking as a car.
In the car manufacturing process, water is used in cooling circuits and to make steam but above all it makes an essential contribution to the preparation of bodywork and in the paint booth, where both the quality and quantity of liquid play very important roles. In both cases highly contaminated waste is generated, requiring special treatment before disposal or, a better alternative, a process of recovery and recycling to return part of the water to the production process.
The way in which different companies deal with this issue largely determines their water footprint, the calculation of the amount of water used to make each vehicle, and the company’s image in the eyes of a clientele which is becoming increasingly aware of environmental care. For a car to have such an impeccable external appearance that its bodywork reflects everything around it, including the person who is polishing it, there is a series of very strict conditions. The first stage is the preparation of the bodywork, which consists of two parts: a surface treatment and the cataphoretic dip, where it receives anti-corrosion protection. Only then does this car in the making move
on to the three stages of true painting: base, colour and finish. And water is fundamental in each of these processes.
SHEETS OF WATER
In the first procedure the paint baths, solvents and washing need large amounts of liquid. Afterwards, degreasing generates waste with a high content of organic matter: oils and greases. Afterwards, the water used during phosphate coating produces waste that accumulates inorganic substances: phosphates, fluorides, manganese, nickel, chrome, etc. Cataphoresis, during which paint is applied and subsequently recovered in constantly circulating water, generates waste containing large amounts of organic matter.
Only later do we come to real painting, which uses sheets of water in closed circuits to clean the air extracted from the booths at each of the three stages. Contamination is suspended in the water, creating a waste substance that needs to be treated in situ.
End consumers normally know little or nothing of this process, as they normally only pay attention to the finished product. However, the figures suggest that people are becoming increasingly interested in everything related to water and carbon footprints. The use of these large amounts of water and the generation of such high levels of contamination are thus a serious challenge for manufacturers. And solving them is no easy matter.
“What people say when we present Aqualogy’s range of solutions is that nobody had previously thought of such a comprehensive solution to deal with all the water-related problems in the plant,” says Marina Palacios, Head of Company Operations in Galicia and Asturias and Automotive and Aeronautics Market Director. From the use of techniques to reduce waste to preventing environmental waste, taking in the use of less hazardous substances and the latest water treatment and recovery technology, the pack prepared for the sector by the Company embraces a number of areas of expertise.
SPAIN, TEST BENCH
Among the systems used the most striking are undoubtedly those in which contaminants are extracted from effluent and turned into sludge, allowing us to recover clarified water which can then re-enter the production circuit.
There are numerous ways of doing this but the most widely used are reverse osmosis, various electrochemical techniques and, of course, filtration. Reverse osmosis eliminates the salts in water by the simple difference in pressure between two bodies of water separated by a membrane, while the electrochemical method extracts nitrogen from waste liquid by biological processes. The Ford plant in
Almussafes (Valencia) uses both reverse osmosis and nitrification/denitrification techniques to treat wastewater, for which a new 1,000 m³ homogenisation tank and a 500 m³ denitrification tank have been built.
Electrochemical techniques are the most sophisticated. Electro-coagulation, electro-oxidation and electro-peroxi-coagulation (this last a technique which gives Aqualogy a strong competitive advantage) eliminate heavy metals, organic matter and substances in suspension thanks to the use of iron, steel or titanium anodes and cathodes.
Moreover, they consume less hydrogen peroxide and generate less sludge than other more conventional processes. For example, the electro-peroxi-coagulation treatment plant at the Nissan Forklift factory, in Navarre, can treat 12-15 m³ of wastewater per day.
Spain is an excellent test bench for the use of these technologies because of two factors. Firstly, it is the world’s twelfth largest vehicle producer, and is Europe’s second largest producer of industrial vehicles, with a high level of productivity. But it is also one of the continent’s most water-stressed countries, making it necessary to intensify measures to save and recover water used in an industry that accounts for 6% of national GDP.
The man has finished cleaning his new car and looks at it with a pleased, proud expression. Its metallised finish reflects the responsibility, community spirit, and sustainable conduct he learnt at school. Buying a product and knowing that the company in question has done its best to minimise the harm done to the environment during the complex manufacturing process is part of this attitude to life. And that gives him as much pleasure as driving his new car. x