For Liam Curran, senior technologist at Enterprise Ireland, and his team, the need to reduce energy usage is of paramount importance.
“The production of potable water and the treatment of wastewater is highly energy intensive, mainly in relation to pumping and aeration”, said Curran. “The industry is estimated to account for as much as four percent of global energy usage, so anything that can improve this is very welcome.”
Increasingly, the sector is turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to drive efficiencies.
“IoT has become a hot topic across the entire network, whether municipal or industrial. In the management of river catchment, we are seeing the installation of smart monitors upstream to optimize everything from when to take water, to water quality, to the impact of weather events such as heavy rainfall.”
Smart devices are increasingly used in treatment plants. Curran explains that the industry is moving toward the ability to remotely monitor and manage plant in water facilities before sending water into potable water networks. Once their detectors will be used to monitor changes in pressure so precisely that crews will be able to dig within a meter of a leak.
Commercially or domestically, smart devices in sewers will monitor wastewater issues including flooding. Wastewater treatment plants will be remotely monitored and run and, when wastewater is treated and released, the receiving catchment will be monitored via IoT sensors for environmental issues.
Recovering Resources from Wastewater
Wastewater is increasingly in the spotlight as a result of the growing trend for emerging resource recovery. This includes deriving value from the fact that wastewater is typically 10% above ambient temperatures.
“In the past, we saw wastewater as a problem to be disposed of. Now it’s all about resource recovery – extracting as much value as possible from wastewater,” said Curran. “The focus now is on ways to recover that heat energy and, for example, using the heat from wastewater leaving a building to heat that building.”
Wastewater is also rich in organic matter that could be run through an anaerobic digester to create bio-methane which can be cleaned and burned as an energy source. Technologies already exist to recover nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen from wastewater. And indeed, the water itself can be recovered. California, Florida, and parts of the Middle East are already treating wastewater to a point where it is suitable for such reuse as irrigation or industrial purposes.
Such activities will increasingly be demanded to meet environmental standards. Emerging contaminants of concern include pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and their removal is another area set for growth.
“The world hasn’t really considered the impact of PPCPs on water, but if you take medications such as antidepressants, hormone compounds or analgesics, they exit the body unchanged and enter into wastewater systems,” said Curran. “If you look for aspirin downstream of municipal wastewater systems, you will find it in rivers and lakes. Questions are increasingly being asked around the impact that these compounds have on the environment.”
Antibiotics in Wastewater
With concerns over antibiotic resistance growing worldwide, demand is growing for technologies to destroy antibiotics in wastewater too.
Anxiety is also growing about the impact of microplastics, whether from plastic packaging, microbeads in shower gels or from synthetic clothing such as fleeces.
“The vast majority comes from degradation of plastic materials and runoff from streets because the sewer system and stormwater runoffs are combined, but the fact remains that our water treatment plants are not designed to remove microplastics,” says Curran.
Irish companies turning wastewater green
A number of innovative Irish companies are working to solve such challenges, however. OxyMem in Athlone has developed a low energy wastewater treatment using gas permeable membrane technology.
Ireland has a strong national capability in relation to the Internet of Things technologies too, as well as extensive data analytics expertise from companies such as Compass Informatics in Dublin, which has developed a product for municipal wastewater treatment bio-solids management.
In Galway, NVP Energy has developed wastewater treatment technology that removes organic pollution while producing biogas. It is currently in use at a meat processing plant in Lurgan.
“One of the major advantages it offers is that they have taken 75 percent of the organic load off the existing treatment plant,” says Curran.