Japan to test trade in sewage water

July 2010 - It may not be the most glamorous export, but selling treated sewage water is seen as a way Japan can profit from billions of tons of water now being dumped into the sea.As early as autumn, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism will conduct an experiment exporting highly treated sewage water from Chiba and Kawasaki cities to Australia.If the experiment succeeds, it will be Japan's first exports of water resources.Companies involved in the experiment, including Hitachi Plant Technologies Ltd., plan to start sewage water exports on a commercial basis in fiscal 2012.For the experiment, the companies will load the treated sewage water onto ships in Tokyo Bay that have just finished transporting iron ore from Australia.To avoid the costs of exporting the sewage water as "cargo," the water will be placed in the empty vessel tanks for use as ballast. Normally, seawater is used as ballast for the return trips.After reaching Australia, the water will be supplied to mining companies that need large amounts of water for ore operations and to keep the dust factor to a minimum.The transported water will not be used as drinking water or for agricultural purposes.On Monday, the state of Western Australia, home to major mining companies such as Rio Tinto, agreed to cooperate in the experiment.Australia, whose annual rainfall is less than 600 millimeters on 80 percent of its territory, is facing a water shortage. That amount is less than one-third of the rainfall in Tokyo.According to Japanese transport ministry officials, Australian mining companies currently use fresh water deemed fit for drinking that has been converted from seawater.However, that water costs as much as Australian $4 to $5 (about 300 to 400 yen) per ton.Japan's treated sewage water will presumably cost less.In Japan, about 14 billion tons of treated sewage water is produced a year, but only 1.5 percent of the amount was reused in fiscal 2007. Most of the remaining sewage water is dumped into rivers or the sea.Some details must be worked out before commercial operations can start.In the first stage of the experiment, the treated sewage water will be poured into drum cans in the vessels' tanks to check for changes in water quality during the voyage to Australia.If the quality deteriorates, additional treatment will have to be done in Australia.In Australia, the companies will have to figure out the costs and methods of transporting the treated sewage water from the ports to the mines.Water shortages have become serious in various parts of the world, and parched conditions have become the norm in the Middle East.The trade ministry estimates the market scale of the international water business will expand 2.4 times in 15 years.If the experiment with Australia proves successful, Japan, with its excess amount of treated sewage water, could become a major water exporter.
http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201007060572.htmlJapan to test trade in sewage waterBY DAI NARUSAWA THE ASAHI SHIMBUN2010/07/07