What is Zero Liquid Discharge?

In this modern age, where environmental consciousness is at an all-time high, we find ourselves at the forefront of an innovative solution that promises to revolutionize industrial wastewater management: Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD).

By drastically reducing water consumption through immense efficiency gains, many of the previous difficulties around disposal are eliminated. In this blog post, we’ll look at Zero Liquid Discharge, its benefits and advantages, and how businesses can implement it within their operations.

What Exactly is Zero Liquid Discharge System?

A Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) system is a unique system that removes all liquid waste from industrial processes. Unlike other systems that only clean some water before dumping it into rivers or lakes, ZLD goes above and beyond, leaving no room for any liquid waste to escape.

In a ZLD system, every drop of industrial wastewater is carefully treated, purified, and recycled, ensuring no harmful substances or pollutants enter our environment.

This revolutionary concept not only helps preserve our precious water resources but also promotes sustainable practices and reduces the overall ecological footprint of industries.

Figure 1 Zero Liquid Discharge System

Why is Zero Liquid Discharge Important?

Zero Liquid Discharge is a revolutionary way to treat wastewater in industrial settings, significantly reducing the amount of water used and allowing for reuse in many industries. As an elegant solution to the ever-increasing problem of disposing of industrial wastewater, ZLD offers great potential for improving sustainability practices while minimizing environmental damage from contaminants.

What are the ZLD Process and Its Components?

ZLD is a process that uses different technologies and methods to achieve its goal. Traditional zero-discharge treatment technologies involve the pretreatment of wastewater followed by complete separation of water from solids through evaporation/crystallization; It usually has several steps, like pre-treatment, evaporation, crystallization, and dewatering. Each step helps to remove impurities and make the waste more concentrated.

Figure 2 ZLD process and its components

Step 1: Pre-treatment

During pre-treatment, various processes remove solid particles, oils, and other contaminants from the wastewater. This initial purification step prepares the water for subsequent treatment processes.

Step 2: Evaporation

Next, the water evaporates, where the wastewater is heated and turned into vapor. The vapor leaves behind solid waste that is more concentrated. The vapor is then cooled and collected for more treatment

Step 3: Crystallization

The concentrated solids obtained from evaporation are sent through a crystallization process. In this process, the solid waste from evaporation is changed into crystals. These crystals can be separated and thrown away or used for other things.

Step 4: Dewatering

Lastly, the remaining wastewater, now significantly reduced in volume, undergoes dewatering. The last bit of water is removed from the solid waste in dewatering. This makes dry solids that can be safely thrown away or used for other things.

Due to the growing maturity of membrane technologies (e.g. RO), the disadvantages of evaporation/crystallization and other thermal technologies that are relatively energy-consuming are gradually emerging, and low-cost membrane technologies are being used more often for zero-discharge treatment. By concentrating first in order to reduce the treatment volume, while recovering freshwater time.

The concentrated brine is evaporated and concentrated by evaporation/crystallization technology to collect water, and the solids precipitated in the wastewater are removed by press filtration or centrifugal dewatering, and the filtered water is returned to the brine tank for mixing and reprocessing, thus achieving zero liquid discharge.


Role Of Water Chemistry In Zero Liquid Discharge

A thorough understanding of water chemistry is essential for establishing an effective design basis and ensuring zero liquid discharge.

In ZLD systems, wastewater chemistry encompasses various chemical constituents that require careful consideration. These constituents can be categorized into cations, anions, and other parameters, as shown in the Table below.

Constituent Example
Cations Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Barium, Strontium
Anions Chloride, Fluoride, Sulfate, Nitrate, Phosphate
Others Silica, Boron, TDS/TSS, COD/TOC/BOD, Alkalinity, Oil & Grease, pH

A comprehensive understanding of water chemistry enables ZLD system operators to optimize the treatment processes and effectively remove or separate the different chemical constituents. This knowledge guides the selection and implementation of advanced technologies such as membrane filtration, evaporation/crystallization, thermal processes, advanced oxidation processes (AOPs), and biological treatment.

By tailoring the treatment processes to the specific water chemistry, ZLD systems can efficiently remove contaminants, recover high-quality water for reuse, and minimize the volume of wastewater requiring disposal. Moreover, considering water chemistry helps prevent scaling, fouling, corrosion, and other operational challenges that can arise in ZLD systems.

The role of water chemistry in zero-liquid discharge systems cannot be overstated. It provides the foundation for effective design, treatment optimization, and successful operation, ultimately contributing to the achievement of zero liquid discharge goals and the sustainable management of wastewater.

Role of Advanced Technologies in ZLD Systems

Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) systems use advanced technologies to treat and manage industrial wastewater without producing liquid waste. These technologies are specially designed to deal with the challenges of removing contaminants and recovering water from wastewater. Here are some key advanced technologies that ZLD systems often use:

Membrane-based Processes

These processes use thin membranes to filter out contaminants, salts, and other dissolved solids from wastewater.

Ultrafiltration (UF)

UF membranes separate suspended solids, colloids, and large molecules from the feed solution. They play a crucial role in pretreatment processes, removing particulate matter before further treatment steps.

Reverse Osmosis (RO)

RO membranes use pressure to separate dissolved salts and contaminants from the feed solution, producing a high-quality permeate stream and a concentrated brine stream. RO is a key technology in ZLD systems for achieving high water recovery rates.

Figure 3 Fractional Electrodeionization (EDI)

Fractional Electrodeionization (EDI)

EDI utilizes ion-exchange membranes and electrical currents to remove dissolved salts from water. It is often used as a polishing step after RO to achieve ultrapure water quality.

Thermal Processes

These processes use heat to treat wastewater, turning water into vapor and leaving behind concentrated solids.

Falling Film Brine Concentrator

A falling film brine concentrator is a thermal process used in ZLD systems. It passes the wastewater through a series of vertical tubes, creating a thin liquid film. Heat evaporates the water content as the liquid flows downward, resulting in concentrated brine. The concentrated brine can then be further processed or disposed of appropriately.

Forced Circulation Crystallizer

Forced circulation crystallizers are another thermal process employed in ZLD systems. In this method, the wastewater is heated and then circulated through a crystallization chamber under controlled conditions. The controlled circulation promotes the growth of crystals from the dissolved solids in the wastewater. These crystals can be harvested, separated, and subsequently managed.

Horizontal Spray Film Evaporator

Similar to falling film brine concentrators, horizontal spray film evaporators are a thermal process used in ZLD systems. The wastewater is sprayed as a thin film onto horizontal surfaces within an evaporation chamber. Heat is then applied to evaporate the water, leaving behind concentrated waste for further treatment or disposal.


Evaporation and crystallization processes concentrate the wastewater stream after membrane filtration. Evaporation systems remove water content by subjecting the wastewater to heat and pressure, leaving behind concentrated brine. Further crystallization can be performed on different salts and other solid materials, which can be disposed of properly.

However, membrane systems are often employed to reduce the overall cost of the evaporation system

Hybrid Systems

These systems combine multiple technologies into one powerful solution. They often mix membrane-based processes, thermal processes, and other specialized techniques to handle specific wastewater features and achieve the desired level of purification and recovery.

By combining different technologies, hybrid systems offer better performance, higher water recovery rates, and more overall sustainability. They enable customized solutions for different industrial applications, ensuring that ZLD systems can deal with various contaminants and complexities in industrial wastewater streams.

Benefits of Zero Liquid Discharge

ZLD has many benefits for the environment, the economy, and society. Let’s take a look at some of them.

* Environmental Benefits: Safeguarding Our Planet, Drop by Drop

Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) holds the key to many environmental benefits. By eliminating liquid waste discharge, ZLD systems preserve our precious water resources, ensuring a sustainable supply for future generations. By reusing wastewater instead of discharging it, ZLD reduces the demand for fresh water and ensures its availability for future generations.

ZLD also prevents pollutants and harmful substances from entering water bodies, protecting aquatic life and biodiversity. Moreover, ZLD lowers the risk of soil and groundwater contamination, creating cleaner and healthier environments.

* Economic Benefits: Efficiency that Drives Success

ZLD systems are not just environmentally friendly but also a wise investment. ZLD helps industries save money by reducing water intake costs and avoiding penalties for violating environmental regulations. ZLD also helps industries make money by recovering chemicals and minerals from wastewater, which can be reused or sold.

Additionally, ZLD enhances the public image and reputation of industries that adopt it, attracting customers and stakeholders who care about sustainability. ZLD is a smart investment that boosts efficiency and profitability.

* Social Benefits: Building Sustainable Communities

The impact of Zero Liquid Discharge extends beyond the environment and the economy—it reaches the heart of our communities. ZLD improves water security and resilience, especially in regions where water is scarce or polluted.

ZLD ensures access to clean water for local communities and industries that depend on it. ZLD also fosters social responsibility and trust among industries and their stakeholders, who share a common sustainability vision. ZLD strengthens the social fabric of our communities and improves their quality of life.

Applications of Zero Liquid Discharge Desalination

The applications of Zero Liquid Discharge desalination are extensive and offer significant benefits in various sectors:

These systems produce clean drinking water for communities in water-scarce regions. They effectively remove salts and impurities, providing a dependable and sustainable water source for domestic use.

Figure 4 Municipal Water Supply

  • Industrial Processes

Many industries need a lot of water for their operations, and ZLD desalination can help them meet these needs sustainably. Industries like power generation, oil and gas, chemical production, and mining can use ZLD desalination to get the needed water without using up or polluting local water sources.

  • Agriculture and Irrigation

ZLD desalination can help farmers in dry regions with limited water resources. It provides high-quality irrigation water by removing salts, enabling efficient agricultural production and reducing the environmental impact of saline drainage on soil and groundwater.

  • Resort and Tourism Industry

Coastal resorts and tourist places often face water scarcity challenges, especially during high tourist seasons. ZLD desalination offers a sustainable solution to ensure a steady supply of fresh water for resorts, hotels, and recreational facilities, supporting the tourism industry while preserving local water resources.

  • Remote and Off-Grid Locations

ZLD desalination is very useful in remote or off-grid areas with limited access to freshwater sources. By using ZLD desalination systems, communities, and facilities in such areas can become self-sufficient in water supply, reducing their reliance on external sources.

By implementing a Zero Liquid Discharge system, industries can significantly minimize their environmental impact and comply with strict regulatory standards. It conserves water resources and helps recover valuable by-products from waste, reducing overall operational costs and enhancing the sustainability profile of the industry.

Bottom Line

Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD) is a powerful and cost-effective wastewater treatment system that eliminates the discharge of liquid pollutants into our precious water bodies. Through its efficient recovery processes and tailored solutions for diverse industrial applications, ZLD systems are helping us conserve our water resources for current and future generations while creating economic and social benefits for local communities. As the demand for sustainable wastewater management solutions grows, the importance of ZLD will only increase—with it, the promise of a cleaner and more prosperous future.

Connect with Newater to explore how you can implement a Zero Liquid Discharge system and contribute to a more sustainable and efficient industrial wastewater management solution.

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