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To celebrate World Water Day, the Water: Effective Technologies and Tools (WETT) Research Centre presents a talk by Honorary Professor Bruce Jefferson on the future of wastewater treatment plants.
Now that we have celebrated the centenary of the activated sludge process it is timely to reflect on what would we like to look back on in another 100 years. Unquestionably the use of aerobic biological processes (activated sludge and biofilm systems) has been successful in protecting human health and the environment from the potential risks associated with sewage discharges. However, is the approach still fit for purpose, or do we need to re-evaluate what success looks like?
Wastewater enters the treatment works and we add chemicals and energy to produce the treated water to the required quality. As well as using high levels of chemicals in the process, we also produce less desirable outputs in greenhouse gas emissions and sludge. Around 2-4% of most countries' total energy consumption is for wastewater treatment. We also use substantial amounts chemicals (water and wastewater) but only recycle 0.1% of those chemicals. This is a linear economy approach and raises the question: Should we accept such an approach in protecting ourselves and the environment?
Wastewater is a resource rich in carbon, nutrients, energy and, of course, water. As such we can reimagine a sewage treatment works as an effluent factory where energy is generated, nutrients recovered and water produced suitable for a range of end purposes. Such thinking aligns strongly to the general discussions around the potential for switching to a circular economy and highlights the potential of the water sector to be a significant actor in this journey.
Reflecting a desire for solutions more aligned to the circular economy concept, innovative alternative technologies and associated flowsheets are being developed that produce added value through recovery of nutrients, use of waste materials or opportunities to cascade. But what really are the opportunities and what are the barriers to implementation? Can we envisage a circular economy model for sewage treatment in the future that has a lower net cost coupled to increased environmental and societal benefit?
About Professor Bruce Jefferson
Bruce Jefferson (Cranfield University, UK) is Professor of Water Engineering at the Cranfield Water Science Institute which is recognised internationally for its research, education, training and consultancy. His research interests involve understanding how underlying process pathways can be better managed to deliver a paradigm shift in how we apply technology for sewage treatment and drinking water production. Current activities involve work on resource recovery, anaerobic sewage treatment, low energy wastewater processes for nutrient removal, NOM, algae and micropollutant control in catchments and treatment, and advanced oxidation processes.
Bruce works closely with industry and is supported by funding from a wide range of granting and industry sources including American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AwwaRF, USA), Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA, UK), Department of Trade and Industry (DTi, UK), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, UK), European Union (EU), Environment Agency (EA, UK), Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Severn Trent Water, Thames Water, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water.
Registration and bookings
Register online - $20 (includes tea and coffee).