Working with the Water Industry to Recycle Biosolids

Distinguished Professor Andy Ball’s research into pathogen survival and treatment has delivered savings to the water industry and influenced a change in regulation.   

Ball is Director of RMIT’s Centre for Environment, Sustainability and Remediation, which brings together environmental scientists, social scientists and engineers to understand and solve environmental and sustainability problems.

South-East Water was seeking to better understand the survival of pathogens in sewage that it recycles for use as fertiliser on farms. In the absence of evidence on survival times of pathogens, Victorian regulation required that biosolids be stored for three years to ensure they are safe to use on farmland. South East Water produces around 3,000 dry tonnes of biosolids each year, a figure projected to triple over the next 30 years, requiring the construction of additional storage facilities. Stockpiling biosolids is not only expensive, it is often undesirable to nearby communities due to bad odours.

Ball’s research team partnered with the water industry in Victoria to address this challenge, including working closely with researchers from South-East Water who had expertise in wastewater processing. Through their collaboration they identified a new technique to isolate pathogens in biosolids.

Ball’s team then partnered with environmental consulting company ALS Environmental Services to further assess the new technique, which has now been adopted as the basis for a commercial protocol for the isolation of pathogens from biosolids.

Water recycling facility.

The collaboration with South East Water has supported an improved treatment process for biosolids that requires less storage time, saving South East Water over $1.5 million in a single year and reducing greenhouse gas emissions

RMIT’s research has contributed to a better understanding of pathogen management in the water industry, demonstrating that the required safety levels for recycling of biosolids can be achieved within shorter storage time than previously thought. This has influenced a change in Victorian regulation, reducing the mandatory retention period for biosolids from three years to 18 months. South East Water estimated that the reduced storage requirements have delivered over $1.5 million in savings in a single year. It has also delivered environmental benefits, including reducing Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 87,000 kg each year.

Ball is now leading the establishment of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource at RMIT, bringing together expertise from universities, water management authorities and industry in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The Centre will transform the way biosolids are managed in Australia and provide global leadership in environmentally sustainable practices.

For further information contact RMIT’s Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Remediation.

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