All Posts

Time to Get Serious About Wastewater Treatment

Time to Get Serious About Wastewater Treatment

Why WasteWater Treatment Innovations Like MABR Can Transform Our Water

According to the fourth World Water Development Report, only 20% of global wastewater is treated (UNESCO, 2012). The vast majority of wastewater is discharged directly into the environment without any form of treatment. Worldwide wastewater treatment is clearly inadequate and failing both society and the environment.

Urban populations are projected to nearly double in the next 40 years, from 3.4 billion to over 6 billion people - but already most cities fail to provide adequate wastewater management due to absent, inadequate or aging sewage infrastructure (World Water Council, 2012).

According to a recent UN-Water Analytical Brief, a paradigm shift is urgently required in water politics the world over to prevent further damage to sensitive ecosystems, and to the aquatic environment.

Sedimentation-Tanks-at-Abandoned-Sewage-Treatment-Plant-1Unlike conventional markets such as Power, Telecommunications or Agriculture, we lack a fundamental economic drivers to encourage wholesale participation in cleaning up our wastewater. It appears to be simply more efficient and less costly to dispose of untreated wastewater into our oceans and rivers, that is until we start counting the real cost of our inaction.

There are some parallels with Energy; in the 1970’s it seemed more efficient to burn oil and coal to produce energy, but now most of us understand the significant hidden costs of these practices. As a result Governments stepped in, incentivised renewable energy and started the low carbon revolution. Thanks to Moore’s law and demand momentum we are almost at a point where it doesn’t seem to matter how cheap oil has become, solar and wind have started to stack up as a more compelling solution across the spectrum of return drivers; Economic, Environmental and Social ROI’s.

So how do we flip Pareto on its head and go from 20% of wastewater being treated to 80%? How do we compete with a hole in ground or an ocean for discharge when participating in the global wastewater treatment market?

The problem may lie in the demand side, let’s review:

1. Economic driver

The wastewater treatment is only about $30 billion dollars a year, it should be a lot closer to a Trillion! In almost every economy a cubic meter of treated wastewater has almost no market value other than meeting the regulatory drivers.

Driver – Poor

2. Environmental driver

Given the huge differences between developed and developing countries in political structures, national priorities, socioeconomic conditions, cultural traits and financial resources, adoption of developed countries strategies for wastewater management is neither appropriate nor viable for [many] developing countries.” Massoud et al. (2009).

Driver - Poor

3. Societal driver

In high income countries up to 20% of the wastewater is untreated, and in middle to low income countries it is approximately 87% untreated.

Driver - Poor

What can the value proposition be for wastewater treatment  to prompt us to move the needle? How do we create a demand side revolution? Well maybe we already have a number of key scarcity drivers in place, we just haven’t woken up to the reality yet. When we do, the market should begin to price and prioritise wastewater treatment for the scarce resource it is:

  • Water scarcity (Remember peak oil)
  • Food scarcity, relates just as much to the food we secure from our oceans as well as our fields


These challenges requires new thinking, fresh faces with fresh ideas, people who are prepared to step up and accept the challenge of dealing with this problem.

We are now living in the exponential age where we are limited by our power to imagine. Those who fail to imagine a better future will suffer the consequences of their lack of forward thinking whether they be governments or corporations. Remember Kodak?...In 1998, Kodak had over 170,000 employees and had 85% of the photographic paper market worldwide. Within just a few short years, their business model disappeared and they went bankrupt - and most people didn't see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never print pictures on paper film again? Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore's law (Moore's Law is the observation made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future).

So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became way superior and got mainstream in only a few short years. It will now happen with health, cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and certainly water & wastewater treatment! Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution, welcome to the Exponential Age.

We believe wastewater treatment advancements should have an exponential impact. Why not visit OxyMem today and learn about how we are ‘cutting the crap’ in the Wastewater world, it really is an unstoppable movement! #CutTheCrap



John McConomy
John McConomy
John McConomy is the Commercial Director of OxyMem. OxyMem solves OPEX intensive wastewater treatment using an innovative Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR).

Subscribe to stay informed

*Environment  *Legislation  *Socio-economics  *Technology

Related Posts

H20 Global News -An Interview with OxyMem Managing Director Andreas Gorenflo

Exclusive Interview with OxyMem H2O Global News' Editor, Natasha Posnett, caught up with Andreas Gorenflo, our Managing Director at OxyMem, to get a better understanding of what we offer and how OxyMem helps customers worldwide. Also discussed in the interview is the role MABR plays in ensuring water sector sustainability.  

OxyMem MABR Technology Helps Wastewater Treatment Plant in Lanzhou, China

OxyMem MABR Technology Helps Wastewater Treatment Plant in Lanzhou, China Breakthrough biological treatment technology deployed to help improve water quality of the Yellow River  

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.