The global water industry is facing a series of complex challenges, from climate change and urbanization to ageing infrastructure and rocketing energy costs. When we turn to wastewater treatment, the specific challenges the industry is currently coping with include:
- A constantly growing demand for water both for domestic and industrial use.
- Increasingly strict environmental standards, often with differing transcontinental regulations
- A relentless drive by companies and their shareholders to lower operating costs
- A highly competitive and complex market
With world energy consumption expected to grow 28% by 2040, demand for high-efficiency, intelligent wastewater technologies is growing. This demand is coupled with a shift from attempting to achieve energy efficiency for single components or products towards optimizing efficiency throughout an entire system.
This can be done using optimum technology combinations, which will therefore result in reduced carbon emissions and lower lifecycle costs.
Clearly, effective engineering is still a key baseline requirement. Large numbers of people continue to inhabit urban areas where, even in advanced economies, sewage is still not suitably treated. In many places, untreated wastewater is often discharged into rivers and estuaries or even used for irrigation. Three key areas to add onto this base are:
- Wastewater treatment as a resource
- The role of automation
- Use of data
Wastewater as a resource
New technologies are promising to transform wastewater into a resource for energy generation and a source of drinking water. Modular hybrid activated sludge digesters, for instance, are now removing nutrients to be used as fertilisers and are, in turn, driving down the energy required for treatment by up to half.
Nanotechnology for filtration
According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 million people die each year from gastric diseases caused by a lack of basic sanitation and safe drinking water. Researchers in India have come up with a solution to this chronic problem by creating a water purification system using nanotechnology. This technology is capable of removing microbes, bacteria, and other matter from water using composite nanoparticles, which emit silver ions that destroy contaminants.
Using automation to simplify maintenance
The automation of a growing number of processes means greater efficiency and reliability, and therefore assists plant operators in achieving higher-quality treated water. It also allows for more effective resource management as those operatives responsible for monitoring and correcting pipes and valves, electrical systems, and instrumentation can carry out other essential operations.
Ultimately, operational efficiency can be improved by integrating existing software and hardware with current treatment technologies. This means that operators will always have access to real-time conditions during the treatment process, rather than relying on guesswork.
Optimisation of data for efficient and effective wastewater management
The capacity to continuously monitor routine processes and deviations means that decision-making can be better and more accurate. These systems have highly advanced reporting capabilities, which benefits the role of staff in two ways:
- It eliminates the need to sample and measure process parameters multiple times a day.
- Operatives are freed up to spend more time on gaining more operational effectiveness using trend analysis.
The challenges are many and complex but, as we have seen above, they also represent tremendous opportunities. The speed of adoption of high-efficiency wastewater treatment technologies results in greater productivity of wastewater operations and also unlocks the capacity for a significant fall in emissions and, thus, a real response to the effects of climate change.