Biosolids - "Never Ending Problem" or Increasing Opportunity?
Mar 08, 2021
Recycling biosolids from the wastewater treatment process is one of the most sustainable ways of achieving a regenerative, circular economy that eliminates waste and enhances the environment. It was also the theme of the latest Water Action Platform webinar that took place on 18 February.
Biosolids master planning
Sector expert Rick Lancaster, bioresources director at engineering consultancy Atkins, has developed and implemented several award-winning biosolid masterplans and strategies for utilities around the world.
He told participants, “Biosolids management is an incredibly important part of the water cycle. We are producing more biosolids as populations increase and environmental standards become more stringent, so it’s vital we manage it correctly.”
“If we do not manage biosolids efficiently and effectively, we risk polluting the environment and increased operating costs. We want to extract as much of the value as we can so we can return the water, carbon and micronutrients back to the environment safely and sustainably. It’s really important to address the way we see biosolids, not as a never-ending problem, but as an increasing opportunity,” he added.
Biosolids have been recycled to agricultural land for many decades in the UK, Europe and the US. With emerging technologies injecting more innovation into biosolids practices, Lancaster believes there is increasing scope for the industry to exploit this valuable resource.
“It’s a developing area, and an exciting one. There are so many different technologies we can deploy, but first it is important for organisations to come up with a robust strategy to realistically address the constraints and opportunities of bioresource management.”
During the technology showcase, Isle highlighted two different but equally disruptive breakthrough technologies.
The first showcase came from Andion in Vancouver, who are market leaders in anaerobic digestion based waste-to-energy and complex wastewater treatment solutions. Recently the company has been working with the University of British Columbia on a novel way to enhance conventional sludge digestion using microwaves and hydrogen peroxide to disintegrate solids, increase biogas production and decrease energy consumption.
The approach is configured for both pre-treatment and post-treatment and can be applied to biosolids and other organic materials such as food waste, manure and digestates. Andion is keen to talk to anyone interested in working with them as they scale-up.
The second technology showcase was from the German group Eliquo, which has developed a vacuum degassing technology known as EloVac-P. Utilities can reduce their carbon footprint by 25 per cent and save up to 20 per cent on sludge disposal costs by deploying the system.
EloVac-P is already in use at wastewater treatment works Europe and the US and Eliquo has full-scale mobile units available for onsite trials.
Keeping utilities cybersecure
There is an ever-increasing risk of credible cyber threats to critical infrastructure. This was highlighted in an incident earlier this month when a hacker breached the water treatment plant for the city of Oldsmar and tried to poison the water supply for around 15,000 residents by increasing sodium hydroxide levels.
Cybersecurity must be treated as a growing area of concern for modern water utilities. While an employee picked up the issue in time and reversed the action, the breach had the potential to cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea in customers.
There are several measures that can be taken to improve the cybersecurity of water infrastructure.
Below is a list of cybersecurity resources for UK, Europe and North America:
- Water UK produced a set of principles and recommendations to help its members address the risks posed to water and wastewater services by cyber related threats.
- USEPA provides information to help state agencies start a conversation with water systems about cybersecurity threats.
- UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. A water-specific strategy was developed by Defra with industry inputs, and recently published. The Water Sector Cyber Security Strategy aims to guide activities across the sector, including water companies and government.
- Project STOP IT brings together a strong team of 23 partners from across Europe and Israel to identify risks and co-develop an all-hazards risk management framework for the physical and cyber protection of critical water infrastructures.
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