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Time for WasteWater Treatment Plants to Embrace the Latest Innovations

Time for WasteWater Treatment Plants to Embrace the Latest Innovations

We need access to clean water to survive and prosper. Water helps us maintain our existence and to enjoy sustainable lifestyles. We are all too aware of the issues associated with water shortages, however, and thus it is increasingly important that we also look at the impact of our sustained negligence in wastewater treatment infrastructure. The good news is innovation has caught up and there is a new breed of wastewater treatment solutions like MABR which can make a material difference to the efficacy of existing processes.


Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

 By caring for our environment we care for ourselves.

What's the hurry you may ask? The reality is that a major water crisis is fast approaching. As cities like Dublin, have experienced this is no longer a problem for future generations. Households and businesses in Dublin experienced water shortage twice this year already: first, in the winter when Ireland was hit with the freezing temperatures and snow flurries, and during the recent few weeks, when temperatures rose to 30-Celsius degrees and not even a drop of rainwater was seen since last month. The unfortunate reality is that Dublin is not alone, and many other cities will follow suit. The other point often neglected in this is the fact that it is not just domestic consumption that is at play, as agricultural and business use are also significant in their use.

 Conventional Wastewater Treatment is Not Enough

The importance of wastewater treatment was recognized by ancient civilizations. For example, wastewater coming from domestic settlements and farms were used as a fertilizer to successfully increase crop yields.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a combination of factors from industrialization, to population growth, and intensive urbanization resulted in dirty and odorous water surrounding settlements, towns and cities. After reaching the conclusion that this water was contributing to disease, the process of piping wastewater ‘out of sight’ was started. However, this did not include any treatment at source, and the result is an entire infrastructure in the industrial world is based on a deeply flawed approach to the treatment of water.

As cities grew and land in their immediate neighborhoods became more valuable, piping wastewater further and further away became a problem. In the early 20th century treating wastewater biologically by removing the pollutants using microorganisms started slowly, first by introducing contact beds, with the '20:30' BOD becoming a standard. It meant that water with 20 mg Biochemical Oxygen Demand and 30 mg Suspended Solid per liter or less could be discharged to rivers.

 Investing in WasteWater Treatment Infrastructure

In many of these cities, the ageing infrastructure with low treatment capacity and energy-intensive wastewater treatment processes are simply not able to meet the growing population demands.

These wastewater treatment plants are often located in areas where additional development is problematic, reducing the option set in terms of upgrading in situ. An intensification of most industrial processes which require more water and naturally create effluent is also contributing to the problem.

No matter which way you look at it our approach to wastewater treatment requires new and more efficient solutions.

 Modern WasteWater Treatment Activated Sludge Systems

From an infrastructure perspective,  modern innovative wastewater treatment solutions need to be more energy efficient, more cost-effective, with smaller footprints and be easy to deploy in municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). The good news is that the latest breed of solutions like Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR) modules meets these very requirements.

Modern wastewater treatment has much more to offer in terms of the range of technologies that can be deployed, but the mainstream one, predominantly employed all over the world, is a Conventional Activated Sludge (CAS) system.

However, this approach wastes up to 70% of the energy by seeking to deliver oxygen into the wastewater. This conventional wastewater treatment consumes between 2-3% of a nation’s total electricity production per annum and is simply not sustainable.

This is due to a 100-year reliance on bubble diffusion for conventional secondary treatment which will typically suffer energy losses of 65-70% in the process because of the oxygen transfer limitations in the bubble aeration process.

The size of the conventional activated sludge systems is also fixed and requires a considerable footprint for up-scaling or building new greenfield applications, reducing the attractiveness of this approach.


 WasteWater Treatment Requires Collective Responsibility

As with the recent example in Cape Town, where multiple actors collaborated to good effect, the responsibility lies with every level of our society:

  1.  Individuals - our lifestyles and routines

  2.  Our representatives - at municipalities, states and counties enforcing sustainable policies and actions towards environmental protection and water conservation

  3.  Commercial bodies - businesses and manufacturers of goods of all kind


In short, everyone that uses water and produces wastewater should think and act on minimising their impact on water global circulation for the sake of us all, our children, businesses, health, and our planet.

There is a huge space for improvement and there is a pressing need to act quickly as the current approach is simply not sustainable and the consequences of water shortages will be profound. We need to stave off such an eventuality as best we can


How to Future-Proof WasteWater Treatment Plants?


OxyFILM deployment on Spanish Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant

Swapping conventional aeration systems with MABR and Bubbleless aeration represents a compelling alternative that overcomes traditional hurdles relating to OPEX, CAPEX and flexibility issues.

The OxyMem MABR ( OxyMem OxyFILM) does not have any such limitations as it does not rely on bubbles to deliver oxygen to the biology that breaks down the wastewater. This makes OxyFILM up to 7 times more energy efficient than Conventional Activated Sludge (CAS) and up to 10X more efficient than Moving Bed Biofilm Reactors (MBBR).




At OxyMem, we are providing products and services which continue to challenge the inefficiencies of the past 100 years. In doing so we enable our customers to build and operate energy efficient biological wastewater treatment plants and allowing them to get closer to energy neutral wastewater treatment goals.



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Nitrous Oxide, Not So Funny After All

Nitrous Oxide, Not So Funny After All   Nitrous oxide emissions from wastewater treatment plants are 265 times more harmful to our environment than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas which is emitted as an undesired bioproduct during the biological treatment of wastewater,  it is estimated to be responsible for six per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and it has a warming potential 265 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). It is also one of the main contributors to depleting the ozone layer. The gas is created during the nitrification and denitrification phase due to nitrogen present in urea, ammonia, and proteins found in municipal wastewater. Despite these concerns, there is some reason for optimism because nitrous oxide has a much shorter lifespan of only 114 years compared to carbon dioxide, which can survive hundreds of years in the atmosphere. Therefore, making changes to reduce N2O emission can have a profound effect on the environment in a much shorter time frame. A report from 2019 showed that 6% of nitrous oxide emissions in the United States come from wastewater treatment. Given this prevalence, reducing, and mitigating process emissions from N2O will be paramount for the water industry over the coming decade. Currently the water industry is working towards monitoring nitrous oxide on treatment plants and considering how best to reduce emissions through optimization or upgrading of treatment processes. Could OxyMem be the answer? Investing in technologies which can limit emission and make plant activities more sustainable will be key. To date there has been significant interest in carbon emissions within the sector, but momentum is growing as interest shifts towards targeting harmful nitrous oxide and lesser-known greenhouse gases.  Denmark  In 2018 the Danish EPA launched a funding scheme for Danish utility companies dedicated to measurements of and mitigation actions towards nitrous oxide emissions. In the period from 2018 to 2020, nine Danish utilities have measured and registered nitrous oxide emissions from nine different wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) under the EPA funding scheme OxyMem have supported Vandcenter Syd (VCS) Denmark, who partnered with Aarhus Vand Denmark, to demonstrate the benefits of MABR technology at the Ejby Mølle WWRF. Work started in the summer of 2018. The full-scale demonstration of MABR at Ejby Mølle provided some great insights into the technology, but one key aspect recorded was the significant difference in N2O emissions from MABR when compared against conventional activated sludge treatment. In this project VCS measured nitrous oxide emissions from the conventional activated sludge surface-aerated reactors and the MABR demonstration reactors. Liquid phase sensors were positioned in both the existing activated sludge tanks and the demonstration MABR tanks, and a gas analyser was used to measure nitrous oxide concentrations in the exhaust gas of the MABR units. Results showed that nitrous oxide emissions were on average one order of magnitude lower than those from the conventional activated sludge plant, even under much higher loading conditions. The initial results from the project are very promising and reflect the immense potential for MABR to achieve very intensive total nitrogen removal with low nitrous oxide emissions. United Kingdom -2030 Net Zero Goals Given the potential for the sector, further studies on N2O and the added benefits of MABR are to be formally carried out under a recent initiative by Anglian Water. OxyMem technology was chosen to demonstrate how MABR might help the UK achieve 2030 emissions goals. Plant design is already underway. The project will be funded through an Innovation Fund made available by Ofwat Anglian Water’s Triple Carbon Reduction solution, delivered in partnership with OxyMem, Element Energy Ltd, Jacobs, Cranfield University, University of East Anglia, Brunel University, Severn Trent Water, Scottish Water, Northern Ireland Water and United Utilities, has been awarded more than £3.5 million. It will use novel technologies to target a step change reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and electricity use in used water treatment and provide a new renewable energy source through green hydrogen production – 'triple carbon' synergy and contribution towards achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Adam Brookes, Manager of Innovation Discovery, Anglian Water, said: “Funding for this project will greatly support the delivery of our own net zero routemap and the water sector's drive to Net Zero by 2030, filling a significant missing piece in the challenge. By collaborating with academia, businesses and other water companies, our project creates an elegant solution to eliminate part of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with wastewater treatment and position the sector within the developing hydrogen landscape, in line with the newly launched UK Government Hydrogen strategy.” Amanda Lake, Water Process Lead, Jacobs Europe, said: “We’re excited to couple an innovative pure MABR treatment solution with green hydrogen production. We know the outcomes could be significant for the water sector - lower nitrous oxide process emissions, a role in the green hydrogen economy, valuable resource recovery and application of best practice life cycle assessment methods. What a valuable chance to work together to open the door to the lower carbon, circular economy water sector we urgently require. OxyMem MABR technology could assist the sector in achieving their global environmental goals over the coming years, by enhancing current Wastewater Treatment Plants capacity and at same time help clients move towards achieving their future net zero carbon emissions.  OxyMem MABR enables clients to add or improve ammonia reduction on existing large works using only a few kW's, and the technology can be simply dropped into existing treatment plants without the need to build additional structures or stopping live processes which are key benefits to enable the sector to achieve global environmental goals over the coming years.