Securing Wastewater Treatment Fit for the Future
Jul 18, 2022
As population growth puts pressure on wastewater treatment plant capacity, Andrew Baird, technical director, WPL, makes the case for better understanding and greater flexibility.
Demographic change was also cited in Thames Water’s recent announcement that it is constructing its first sewage works since 2005, in Guildford. The utility says population growth, which will particularly impact London and the south east, makes the new works necessary.
New build is an obvious way to meet the demand of population growth, especially when a whole town or housing development is underway, but optimisation of existing wastewater treatment assets can also reap significant rewards.
As the regulator has highlighted, not all water companies have sufficient understanding of the condition and resilience of their existing assets, or how this is likely to evolve over the longer term. Deeper knowledge about assets means utilities can be more efficient in their maintenance and replacement activity, reducing the risk of service failure to customers.
One option that is sometimes overlooked is the repurposing of older assets, which are typically longer lasting because they were over-engineered when investment was less constrained. The outer shells of most older concrete treatment tanks not only remain intact, but are strong and have plenty of life left to give.
While sometimes neglecting the potential of this legacy infrastructure, there is simultaneously a perception at large in the industry that an alternative wastewater treatment technology could be available in the next 20 years - but no one has yet pinpointed exactly what that is.
In a recent project with Wessex Water, WPL retrofitted an existing circular sludge tank with WPL’s Hybrid-SAF cells, which proved significantly more cost-efficient than the trickling filters originally planned and doubled process capacity. The utility shared the site’s 2040 design horizon, ensuring the solution was futureproofed for anticipated population growth.
In our experience, the cost of traditional treatment plants is two to four times higher than modular build and the civil engineering work required means much longer is required onsite than for packaged plant installation. For WPL, asset specification is based on a 20-year lifecycle, which takes into account localised population growth and migration.
Sometimes minor process interventions can reap major benefits in terms of capacity. At one small rural site, a legacy WPL plant was upgraded within the confines of the existing site footprint, while keeping effluent quality within consents at all times.
Those charged with making investment decisions want certainty that assets are reliable and that they will work. Pollution risk to the environment is non-negotiable - water companies are coming under heavy scrutiny and corporate reputation has never been more highly prized.
Asset management requires continual development if utilities are to meet the major challenges of population growth and climate change in a way that is sustainable and affordable to customers. Asset optimisation that can fuse legacy infrastructure with new modular technology creates robust futureproofed treatment plant with the flexibility to adapt to those innovations sitting just beneath the horizon.
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