Innovating Water Reuse & Recycling with GE Water & Process Technologies’ Heiner Markhoff

August 5, 2015

 
John Shegerian: This is the Wharton IGEL-GE innovation water technology edition of Green Is Good here in beautiful downtown San Francisco and we are so honored to have with us today Heiner Markoff. He is the President and CEO of GE Water and Power and Water and Process Technologies. Welcome to Green Is Good, Heiner. Heiner Markoff: John, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here. John Shegerian: We are so honored to have you. You’re one of the great hosts today. And for our listeners and viewers out there, to learn more about Heiner’s great work with his colleagues, please go to www.GEWater.com. Before we get talking about this important conference and what we’re doing here today talk a little bit about your background. How did you get this very important position at the – of course – iconic and amazing brand GE to be leading on this critical issue of water? Heiner Markoff: Yeah. I’m a long time GE guy. John Shegerian: OK. Heiner Markoff: I’ve been with the company almost 22 years. John Shegerian: Wow. Heiner Markoff: In different businesses and different positions – a lot of that in the plastics area when we were in that business before we sold it – and I’ve been leading the water business for the last six-and-a-half years and lot of what we do is really developing and marketing advanced water treatment technologies to address the challenges around the world with regard to water scarcity, the water quality aspect of it, helping our customers – industrial as well as municipal – to meet environmental regulations and drive productivity in their operations. So it’s a fascinating, very challenging industry where we are active in, and this discussion today with a lot of thought leaders in the industry is very timely to address some of the challenges specifically in California. John Shegerian: Right. Well, let’s be honest, you are running one of the leading brands in the world in terms of cutting-edge technology. It’s by design that Wharton and GE came together to host this important conference. We’re sitting in California. We’re in Northern California, specifically close to Silicon Valley – one of the bastions of innovation and technology in the world – and we’re talking about water here and the water crisis but also opportunities here in this drought-stricken state. Talk a little bit about some of the cooler and really cutting-edge technologies that GE Water and Power has that can help us and give us hope that we can solve this problem and we can fix this in our generation. Heiner Markoff: Yeah. I think the good news upfront is technologies are available to do this. John Shegerian: Great. Heiner Markoff: And it’s been implemented in parts of California and other parts of the world – if you look at places like Singapore, Israel, which have faced very challenging situations with regard to water supply. John Shegerian: Right. Heiner Markoff: There are several angles to tackle this problem. One is just conversation and storage and driving really basic measures in that respect. John Shegerian: Right. Heiner Markoff: But the other way really where technology comes into play is water recycling and reuse. John Shegerian: OK. Heiner Markoff: With advanced membrane technologies that we’ve developed and implemented, and we’re working very closely with our customers there. The next part is desalination as another way of making more water available. But we think really the conservation part and the water reuse part are the more economic ways to address these challenges. John Shegerian: And GE already has the technologies – like you say the membrane technologies – that will allow us to recycle and reuse greywater, blackwater and waters that exist out there. Heiner Markoff: There are more than 1,000 facilities around the world that use our membrane technologies for water reuse. Mostly, indirect potable reuse, but if you looked at Singapore, for instance, they even put it as potable water. John Shegerian: So, Heiner, share a little bit with our listeners and our audience around the world – because our audience for Green Is Good is not only here in the United States, but it is a worldwide audience – what are the recycling rates of water and the reuse rates of water approximately in Israel and Singapore? Heiner Markoff: I think Israel is right now almost at 80 or 90 percent. John Shegerian: Wow. Heiner Markoff: Singapore is between – I’d say – 35 to 40 at this stage with a clear path that they’ve laid out to get to 60. And here over in the United States, we are somewhere between six and eight. So there are ways to drive this, to improve this. Proven ways. Technology is available, and I think we just have to have a multi-pronged approach between outreach and education, between policy-making, incentives to really address this from a more realistic perspective. John Shegerian: Well, you bring up a great point, and I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but Israel and Singapore – as you just laid out – are literally many, many steps ahead of us in terms of their recycling and reuse rates. You’re here today messaging this. This is important, the continuing messaging of the hope and the technology that exists. Why does the media not cover the fact that the technology exists, and what is the push-back here in the United States both on a regional and national level? If the technologies exist, why aren’t we already at 30 or 40 percent? Is it social? Is it political? Is it cultural? What is the push-back? Heiner Markoff: I think it’s all of it. John Shegerian: OK. Fair enough. Heiner Markoff: So I think we’re going to have to have a political come-together of minds to really develop the will to do this. John Shegerian: OK. Heiner Markoff: And to drive implementation of these measures and technologies. That is one. The second is clearly a social/cultural thing where you just have to overcome the thought that we reuse water. But again, the technologies are there to get any wastewater to drinking water standards. There are a lot of technologies and measures that support that and make sure that health requirements are met. So I think the technology is available. We need to develop the political will, and we need to educate and reach out to make sure that people understand what’s available, what’s the best available technology and also need to understand that these technologies are safe and being used around the world. John Shegerian: So really you’re bringing a message to our listeners and to the audience today. This is truly a message of hope. The technology exists. It’s just now overcoming some of these other barriers and hurdles. Heiner Markoff: Right. And we continue to work on technology developments to get to the next level and a lot of it is related to improving the cost, getting more cost competitive because at the end of the day it goes into what all of us have to pay for for our water. John Shegerian: Right. Heiner Markoff: But now we are continuing investments in developing the next generation of membranes, the next generation of energy-efficient ways to reusing, recycling and treating water. So I think the basics are there, the hope is there, and I think we’ve got to educate, reach out and drive political will in our society to make it happen. John Shegerian: Well, Heiner, you are the person to make it happen. I’m going to leave you with the last words. This is your conference. I’m going to leave you with our listeners and our viewers with the last word before we sign off today. So given where we are and what is going on and what you know and because you have visibility not only here in the United States but around the world, share what you think the couple years ahead for GE and water innovation and technology has in store for all of us. Heiner Markoff: I think the message here is innovation will help solve the drought problems that we have around the world. We are investing in it, the industry is investing in it, we are working together with our customers both on the industrial side as well as on the municipal side to really improve these technologies to implement those, make them more cost-efficient every day and help address the challenges that we have, because if you really look at it, water is a prerequisite for economic growth, for population growth, and if you overlay maps – and I think you had another interview with Aqueduct before…. John Shegerian: Right. Heiner Markoff: If you overlay those maps, a lot of the areas of economic development and huge population growth are areas that lie in regions with severe droughts. So we need to develop. We need to think about this. We need to develop these technologies, implement those technologies to continue to progress the world. John Shegerian: You have 1,000 installations today and I hope you have another 1,000 really soon. It will make the world a better place. We really thank you for all your great work, Heiner, at GE – the leading brand in water technologies around the world. Thank you very much. For our listeners out there, to learn more about Heiner’s great work at GE and all of GE’s great work in leading technologies in water and power, please go to www.GEWater.com. Heiner Markoff, you are truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you very much. Heiner Markoff: John, thank you. John Shegerian: Thank you.