Marine effluent discharge: an update that changes everything

Viewed as one of the hubs of global alumina production, the Alteo plant located in Gardanne (Bouches-du-Rhône) hit the headlines several years ago with its red sludge, which it has since stopped discharging into the sea. Coming under criticism once again for its industrial water — which also ends up in the Mediterranean, it turned to Veolia, which came up with a biological treatment unit using bacteria to break down suspended organic matter. A first in more ways than one.
The essential
Improving the quality of Alteo’s effluents before they are discharged into the sea in Calanques National Park, in order to meet the most demanding standards.
Provide a sustainable solution for a long-standing manufacturer in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region threatened with closure by a prefectural decree.'
Veolia's response
A biological treatment plant installed on site that provides a rapid response, allowing Alteo to demonstrate its ability to maintain its presence in the region with future-oriented solutions.
Published in the dossier of December 2020

Sormiou and its white sandy beach, crystal-clear water and almost century-old huts where time seems to stand still. Sugiton and its famous “Le Torpilleur” torpedo boat-shaped rock, from which thrill-seekers eagerly dive into the sea. En-Vau, whose towering cliffs are worth the two-hour walk from Cassis. There is an endless list of these enchanting names that delight fans of the Mediterranean all year round and continue to play a starring role on the region’s postcards.

Created in 2012, Calanques National Park is tasked with protecting and preserving these gems. In 2015, this role in safeguarding natural land and marine heritage was instrumental in stopping Alteo from discharging bauxite residue, which for decades used to end up off the coast of Cassis. Following this infamous “red sludge” episode over which so much ink was spilled, the alumina production plant has continued its efforts, acquiring two effluent treatment plants.
The first self-managed plant was inaugurated in 2019. Its little sister is none other than a solution devised by Veolia’s teams.

The aim: is to bring the quality of its water up to standard, a move that was “quite simply vital. Plainly speaking, we were threatened with a prefectural decree that could have put a complete stop to our activity,” recalls Frédéric Ramé.

For Alteo’s CEO and his team, it was therefore “crucial to find a partner specializing in water treatment able to implement a previously unheard-of solution in our industry. And all this within a very tight timeframe.”.

A comprehensive turnkey solution

Industrial effluents sufficiently clean and oxygenated to be discharged all year round, whatever their volume or grade: for many long months, this was the goal for Anne-Laure Galmel, Project Manager for the Mediterranean region at Veolia France Water.

“Set up right at the heart of Alteo's long-standing site, the treatment plant that we have created runs on biomass. In other words, we have reproduced what happens in nature, using bacteria that ‘eat’ pollution.”

This is followed by a physico-chemical treatment for decantation and another ‘finishing’ treatment to remove any remaining suspended matter on filters. What prompted Alteo to choose Veolia's proposal?

“The fact that it was a turnkey solution. Because, over and above the technology, they talked about implementing and managing the site, constant support, and guaranteed operation/maintenance for three years,” says a delighted Frédéric Ramé.

Effective collaboration

The solution's robustness, longevity and expertise are due to the fact that it very quickly became the focus of concerted efforts between the Business Support and Performance division, France Water’s Technical Division, OTV DBI (Design & Build for Industry) and the Bouches-du-Rhône - Val de Durance region for Veolia, and Alteo.
An initial phase from late 2016 to late 2018 allowed two pilots to be rolled out, which were tested on site for two months in 2018.

“Having such seasoned and consistent contacts — including a Marine discharge project manager accustomed to environmental problems — made our collaboration with Alteo much smoother. We felt that they were really motivated to implement the project,” praises Anne-Laure Galmel.

In early 2019, Veolia presented a preliminary draft of the solution that ultimately convinced its partner. In the end, it took fourteen months, lockdown included, to design and build the facilities commissioned over the summer.

“It was a complicated situation, but all those involved were able to rise to the challenge. Like us, Veolia’s teams adapted. Their dedication and ability to make the right decisions played a key role,” confirms Frédéric Ramé.

The result: discharge water of unprecedented quality.

“It’s a first, both for Veolia, which hadn’t treated this type of effluent before, as well as the industry, which had never before achieved such high-quality water exiting the plant. Since last July, we are well below the required thresholds,” observes Anne-Laure Galmel, who hopes that this project will inspire other entities in the Group. In the meantime, beach hut dwellers, divers and walkers in Calanques National Park can sleep soundly...

En attendant, cabanoniers, plongeurs et promeneurs du parc national des Calanques peuvent dormir sur leurs deux oreilles...

Key figures

• The two plants have a treatment capacity of 300m3 of water per hour..

• Calanques National Park welcomes between 1.5 and 2 million visitors (by land and sea) each year.

• There are 60 patrimonial marine species and and 140 terrestrial animal and plant species protected in Calanques National Park.


China: Artificial intelligence in the service of water quality

The time taken to check the water stored in cisterns (secondary supply network) has been reduced from 10-20 seconds to... 0.49 seconds. This performance leap is down to the AI Audit System, making it easier to clean the tanks managed by urban communities in the district of Pudong (Shanghai).
This concept designed by Shanghai Pudong Veolia Water Corporate Limited relies on artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze the photos from the water tanks.

Set up last April — right in the middle of the health crisis — and operating non-stop, this verification system helps improve the cleaning work’s organization and — logically — its efficacy. This has led to a 10.22% rise in the cleaning operations’ success rate and a qualified rate of water quality after cleaning of 100%!

It has been a godsend for this region with over five million inhabitants, where regulations stipulate that water tanks must be cleaned twice a year. Since the introduction of this audit system accelerated by AI, no fewer than 27,000 tanks have been checked. It’s no surprise that the city of Shanghai is planning to adopt this solution for all its check-ups...