Harnessing the Power of Nature to Treat Industrial Water

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Southeastern Laboratories, Inc., a Goldsboro, N.C. based company, has been applying a new and innovative technology to treat industrial water systems. The program uses a product made from the leaves of sphagnum moss as a green and sustainable alternative to their conventional chemical treatment programs.

The future of water treatment is shifting more toward sustainable treatment processes - those found in nature - to purify water used for consumption and industrial processes. As more companies make commitments to becoming better stewards of the environment, many are adopting newer and innovative alternatives to chemical treatment.

At the top of this list is a treatment process that uses the leaves from a particular species of sphagnum moss that grows naturally in New Zealand and along the US-Canadian border. Water that flows from sphagnum moss bogs is among the most pure and pristine in nature due to the plant's ability to absorb contaminants, clarify the water and, most importantly, suppress bacterial activity.

Sphagnum moss has been used for centuries for water and food preservation (the Vikings) and wound healing (for bandages in World War 1 before penicillin to control infection). Bodies over 2,000 years old, often referred to as "bog bodies", that are perfectly preserved, have been found in moss bogs around the world. They are preserved due to sphagnum moss's unique ability to suppress bacterial activity that decomposes bodies. “As the sphagnum moss dies, it releases a carbohydrate polymer called sphagnan. It binds nitrogen, halting growth of bacteria and further mummifying the corpse." Europe's Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2017.

Creative Water Solutions, a Minnesota-based company, completed extensive research on sphagnum moss and found that the properties described above are from the leaves of the plant and are not dependent on the plant being alive. They have developed a patented process for harvesting the leaves and packaging them for application in water systems. The properties that make this significant in the water treatment industry are:

  • Its ability to act as a natural water softener, removing impurities from water such as calcium, magnesium, iron and other metals that can result in scaling and corrosion problems in water systems.
  • Its ability to inhibit and remove organic contamination resulting from microbiological activity, which insulates heat transfer surfaces and causes corrosion in water systems. This is proving to be a much more efficient approach than chemical treatment, which relies on biocidal agents to kill bacteria that produce the contaminants.

Over time, bacteria are able to adapt and protect themselves from these chemical agents but have no immunity from conditions produced by sphagnum moss.

So, what does this mean to the companies that are deploying this program in their water systems?

  • Higher purity water translates to water conservation as water treated in this manner can be re-used longer before having to be discharged.
  • More efficient inhibition of organic contaminants in water systems results in better heat transfer which lowers energy costs.
  • Perhaps most significant to companies with high sustainability goals, discharged water no longer contains chemicals that are potentially damaging to the environment.

A number of companies specializing in industrial water treatment have been getting great results with this technology. The program has been adopted by several US corporations including Corning, General Motors, Arcelor Mittal, and Electrolux as well many other industrial plants, hospitals, and commercial buildings.

Tim Greene, Facilities Manager at the Raleigh Convention & Performing Arts Center, whose facility has been treating their cooling towers with sphagnum moss for almost a year now stated “The RCC works peerlessly in its efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Our commitment to this all-natural approach to water treatment is helping us meet our sustainability goals by conserving water, lowering energy costs, and eliminating chemicals”.

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Steve Chewning, CWT
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