Connecting Waterpeople

You are here

Global Omnium: a trajectory linked to the environment

1
54
  • Global Omnium: trajectory linked to the environment
    Photograph by Luis Vidal

About the entity

Global Omnium
Company specialized in the integral management of water. It currently covers 5.5 million people in more than 300 Spanish cities, in addition to having a presence in other foreign countries.
· 54
1

Themes

Global Omnium is a business group with more than 125 years of experience in water management, a sector with a great impact on the environment, where the company has forged a path of success, doing business in all of Spain as well as in countries such as Angola, Colombia, Qatar or Ecuador. Only concerning water cycle management, Global Omnium operates 368 waste water treatment plants and 21 drinking water treatment plants, that employ 2,280 people.

Global Omnium is a company committed to the environment, both concerning its main business, as integrated water cycle managers, as well as in the remaining sectors it is involved in. Proof of that is the work done at the Oceanografic aquarium, in Valencia, Spain, where they carry our research activities, international in scope, aimed to maintain the biodiversity of our seas. Its commitment to environmental preservation has recently broadened to include the management of the aquarium in Seville.

For decades, even before concepts such as the water footprint or the circular economy were widely spread, Global Omnium based its management on models inspired by nature itself, with the natural water cycle as an example for the sustainable management of a basic resource such as water. Thus, the processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration and run-off, where the same amount of water only changes its physical state and its location, for Global Omnium they translate into business strategies that aim to gradually achieve 100% hydraulic efficiency and zero waste.

Global Omnium has based its management on models inspired by nature itself

The final goal is for each litre of water withdrawn from nature to be delivered to the user in full, and then returned to the cycle, once it has been treated, ready for a new use, in a process that entails numerous environmental synergies that contribute to preserving our planet.

To do that, it maintains a close watch on the use and flow of resources, especially in the integrated water cycle, where it strives to implement eco-efficiency in all production processes, contributing to the fight against climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and preserving biodiversity.

To achieve these objectives, the company has numerous independent accreditations in the area of sustainability and environmental management, and it has also put in place its own indicators to confirm that it is in the 'right path', and detect any potential deviations from it. These indicators include measuring the water footprint and the carbon footprint in all processes.​

Efficiency

Preventing water losses in the networks is a key element to reduce the carbon footprint. Being more efficient not only means making use of every litre of water withdrawn from nature, but also optimising the consumption of energy to withdraw, treat and transport drinking water, processes that represent up to 41% of the company's carbon footprint; the same can be applied to waste water treatment processes, that entail 48% of the carbon footprint, and where greater efficiency leads to lower CO2 emissions.

Actually, Global Omnium is a pioneer in network management using real time hydraulic simulation models, monitoring the operation and control of complex networks. Just in the water supply system for the metropolitan area of Valencia, with 1.5 million people and 3,000 km of pipes, the company uses a 'digital twin' in real time to detect quickly any leaks, as well as to compare estimated and registered variables, enabling better network operating strategies.

This network control, always with the purpose of increasing efficiency and reducing water and energy consumption, can also be transferred to the domestic setting thanks to a extensive fleet of smart meters. Global Omnium has about 700,000 of these meters installed in 36 municipalities, making the company a leader in the Spanish market. The advantages of remotely read meters include the possibility of offering detailed information about consumption, warning about potential anomalies or anticipating leak detection.

Global Omnium is a pioneer in network management using real time hydraulic simulation models, monitoring the operation and control of complex networks

New technologies

Global Omnium uses a series of applications in the Nexus Integra platform that allow complete control over the infrastructure associated to integrated water cycle management, drinking water treatment plants, discharge monitoring, inspections, etc., using the GoAigua suite of solutions.

Among other advantages, thanks to the implementation of sensors and instruments, both in the drinking water network and in the sewerage network, it is possible to plan preventive maintenance, and be more efficient with regard to the reaction time when there is a problem. It is also possible to monitor pumping and overflows, avoiding discharges caused by obstructions and thus contributing to the conservation of continental and marine waters.

Sensor technology, together with advanced communication systems, has increased the effectiveness of discharge control and inspection. Based on registries of industries with potentially polluting discharges, sampling and sensorization campaigns are carried out in areas of the network that are problematic. This enables detecting discharges and preventing their effects on waste water treatment facilities.

One of the lines of business of the company is managing the data from the smart meter fleet, developing its own algorithms that facilitate greater operational efficiency. These improvements and the possibilities they offer are responsible, together with increased public awareness, for an annual decrease in the gross water demand in the metropolitan area of Valencia of 5.2 hm3 (5,200 million litres of water) over the past decade. This is even though Spain and the region of Valencia have experienced some of the warmest years on record in the past few years, something that results in increased water consumption.

Droughts

In this section we highlight the development of our own procedures to deal with crisis situations, specially droughts, which can compromise an essential public service such as the drinking water supply. The company has developed a system of indicators to decide when and which actions should be taken for each level of risk. Currently Global Omnium collaborates with the authorities in charge of the urban supply to prepare emergency plans which require the participation of water managers, authorities responsible for public healthcare, and particularly, the users.

Floods

Another line of work of Global Omnium linked to the environment is the study of urban flooding, which intensifies as a consequence of the expected increase in extreme events caused by climate change.  To do it, company experts use models that analyse the interaction of urban drainage infrastructure with the natural drainage network, searching for nature-based solutions. This work has enabled the design of specific sustainable drainage systems in Bétera, where the overflows are diverged into low areas in a nearby golf course.

In Calpe, where rampant urbanisation has led to increased volumes and more concentrated run-off, with serious flooding in urban areas and the release of large amounts of polluted freshwater, Global Omnium's technology offers as a solution the construction of a flood area in a park next to the salt flats in the town. It retains run-off, reduces polluted water discharges, acts as a green buffer if the capacity is exceeded, and allows the environmental restoration of the land.

One of the lines of business of the company is managing the data from the smart meter fleet, developing its own algorithms that facilitate greater operational efficiency

Waste water treatment

In 2018 Global Omnium treated 282 hm3 of waste water in the 368 waste water treatment plants it manages, applying the best available technology not to exceed the discharge limits, returning high quality treated water to the environment, and offering an additional volume for irrigation in areas affected by resource scarcity.

In this area we note the treatment process used in the Pinedo waste water treatment plant, where requirements are maximised, reducing the phosphorous and nitrogen in waste water in order to send it to the irrigation ditches that discharge into the Albufera wetland. Depending on the time of the year, the Pinedo plant contributes water to be used to flood rice fields, to enhance the environment for migratory birds, or just to maintain adequate water levels for the ecosystems in the natural park.​

Strategic plan

Transportation can represent up to 4.65% of the carbon footprint in a water management company; Global Omnium has put in place its own Sustainable Mobility Plan. The goal is to optimise the trips of staff and equipment required to ensure the efficient management of water infrastructure. To do this, it has its own computer programme with the 'Avalon' tool, and is gradually replacing its vehicle fleet with new hybrid or fully electric vehicles, more efficient and cleaner. The company expects to have 70 new vehicles before 2020.

'Our objective and our commitment, included in Global Omnium's Strategic Plan for 2020, is to achieve a 1.5% reduction in our carbon footprint, taking 2016 as our baseline year, when an external entity verified our emissions, and reduce our CO2 emissions by 5%', points out Dionisio García Comin, managing director of Global Omnium.

Research

The effort to preserve the environment by striving for greater efficiency, turning waste into resources following a circular economy approach, and reducing the water and carbon footprints would not be possible without a solid commitment to research. Global Omnium's Waste Water Division participates, together with well-known labs and university centres, in four LIFE programmes that involve an investment of nearly seven million euros, with the support of the European Commission. Among the objectives of this research is the development, implementation and demonstration of microbiological tools to boost bacterial growth, in order to reduce the amount of time that waste water treatment plants have to stop after a pollution discharge (LIFE-BACTIWATER). Research is also looking into an innovative treatment system to remove phosphorous from waste water more effectively than with current treatments, using natural products, to enhance the agricultural value of the sludge generated (LIFE-NEWEST). 

Other research areas with a clear environmental side to them deal with automated control of waste dosing in anaerobic digesters of waste water treatment plants; this increases biogas production to generate electricity used in the facility itself (LIFE-ECODIGESTIÓN). Energy from fossil fuels is thus replaced with renewable energy, avoiding CO2 emissions.

Global Omnium participates, together with well-known labs and university centres, in four LIFE programmes that involve an investment of nearly seven million euros, with the support of the European Commission

Global Omnium, together with ceramics and textile companies, and the Italian national research centre ENEA, participates as well in the development of natural coagulants for primary treatment of waste water.

In Spain, Global Omnium leads or is a major collaborator in 14 research, development and innovation (RDI) projects related to technologies applied to waste water treatment sludge, and their use for different agricultural and forestry applications, as well as in the research and development of new processes, equipment and methodologies to optimise the management of waste water treatment plants.

Other research projects worth noting are 'TRUST 2030', studying the relationship between integrated water resource management and greenhouse gas emissions in urban environments; LIBERNITRATE, looking into reducing nitrates in the water cycle based on rice stubble; and ANTIMICROBIANOS, which proposes using an alternative to chlorination to ensure the water quality in the network that conveys drinking water to users and ensure population health, through the use of antimicrobial agents to eliminate infectious microorganisms.

On the other hand, Global Omnium, with the advice of the limnology group from the Cavanilles Institute of the University of Valencia, is also involved in advanced research dealing with artificial wetlands to refine and naturalise the effluent of waste water treatment plants. In this area we should highlight the use of native plants, not well studied up to now, and the measurement of greenhouse gases from surface flow wetlands, to ensure that management of these systems at the local scale contributes to mitigating climate change at the global scale.

Another approach used by Global Omnium to support research is the creation in 2015 of the 'Aguas de Valencia' Chair, through an agreement with the Aguas de Valencia Foundation and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. The Chair promotes specialised research and the transfer of results related to efficient and environmentally friendly management of the water cycle. The funds for the foundation have financed several Master's theses, providing scholarships to the students, in water resources conservation, such as the study of alternatives for the environmental restoration of the lower course of the Serpis river, and also studying the application of a heuristic optimisation model to improve the efficiency of water distribution networks.

Impact on the environment

Lastly, Global Omnium works with several NGOs in projects to improve the environment of the cities where the company works. A good example is the fluvial restoration project in the Turia river. Collaborating with the Limne foundation, the Jucar River Basin Authority and the Regional Government of Valencia, Global Omnium has funded several actions to reduce the presence of urban solid waste, eliminate invasive species such as Arundo donax, and regenerate the original riparian forest with protected species.

Another action the company has been involved in is the European Otter Project. The project intends to confirm the current expansion of the European otter in the region of Valencia and link it to enhancements in the river environment and the efficiency of waste water treatment systems, and detect the areas which could be restored to improve habitat connectivity and consolidate the spread of the species, which nearly disappeared from the region in the second half of the 20th century.

The monitoring campaign carried out in 2018 has registered 9 new plots, showing the spread of the otter in new locations in the Serpis river and the lower course of the Turia river.

As well, thanks to a sponsorship agreement with the Global Nature foundation, the international conference 'Living Lakes', where the importance of the Albufera lake was brought to light, was held in Valencia.