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What are the key trends and innovations when assessing best practices by wastewater and sewage treatment companies? In brief, we can identify five areas:

  • Reuse and recycling of post-treatment material (for example, production of fertilizer from ashes)
  • Investment in basin management (the primary stage of sewage treatment  where heavy solids can settle to the bottom while oil, grease and lighter solids float to the surface)
  • Scalability and the degree to which practice, procedure, or process can easily be applied from a small volume to a much greater one
  • Clear and unambiguous advances from established practice, including projects currently operating or those still at the research and development stage
  • The strategic use of new technologies to leverage progress in terms of cost, efficiency and environmental friendliness

There are a variety of companies that are pioneers in adapting to disruptive change (driven by growing population and urbanization and increased demand for new water resources). This ‘top five’ is in no particular order, nor is it definitive, but simply a representative sample of companies whose practices are genuinely innovative.

Suez Environment S.A. (France)

This enormous French multinational, with footprints on the five continents, has always been at the forefront of innovative practices in the waste and wastewater treatment industry. Due to its size, it has been able to fund the development of pioneering waste management plants and invest in R&D to develop greener and more sustainable forms of waste treatment, especially in the field of ‘waste to value’.

BASF S.E. (Germany)

This enormous German conglomerate merits inclusion for the large percentage of turnover it invests in R&D in general. Additionally, it takes a pioneering approach to the processing of sludge from sewage. Once the sludge is incinerated, the steam created generates electricity, which is stored in the district heating network. The plant also processes municipal and industrial sewage sludge from surrounding areas and takes the approach that prevention is better than cure, between 2010 and 2015, BASF reduced its wastewater contamination by around 23%. BASF is an excellent example of creating value whilst being efficient in costs and engendering green benefits.

Biwater (Hong Kong)

Biwater has one of the largest wastewater treatment plants in the world. Given that it operates in one of the most densely populated spaces in the world, Hong Kong harbour, its initiatives are especially notable. The company recently won the Wastewater Project of the Year Distinction prize hosted by the Global Water Awards. The adjudicators recognised the wastewater project that showed the greatest innovation in terms of optimising its physical or environmental footprint. The way it dovetails its multiple infrastructure components shows a distinctly holistic and forward-thinking approach to municipal wastewater and environmental management.

Organica (Hungary)

This small company is just an example of how, despite lacking massive financial resources for R&D, many regional and national companies are investing in innovative practices. In this particular case, Organica stands out among its peers as a forward-thinking provider of Fixed-Bed Biofilm Activated Sludge (FBAS) wastewater treatment plants in urban and residential population centres.

Cambrian Innovation (USA)

Large scale treatment plants are able to process large volumes of wastewater and sewage every day, but they take a lot of power and energy to run. In recent years there has been a large drive towards environmental sustainability; of course, water treatment plants require something a bit more substantial than a few solar panels, there have been significant technological advances in developing self-powered treatment plants.

One pioneering company in this field is Cambrian Innovation in Boston. Using its EcoVolt® group of products, its wastewater treatment system is in the vanguard in terms of extracting clean energy resources, reducing costs and generating positive and sustainable environmental outcomes.

As the world continues on a more sustainable path, being able to treat, process and recycle wastewater and sewage in an efficient, low-impact manner will have a profound effect. On a large scale, treatment plants will see cheaper operating costs while being able to deal with larger amounts of wastewater as technology improves. On smaller scales, towns and cities may eventually see greater sustainability, with clean drinking water from self-powered plants as greener technologies are widely adopted and refined.