The Latest Wastewater Treatment Technologies And Why They Matter
The treatment of industrial waste is facing an issue on a scale that is affecting treatment and processing plants in all locations. That issue is the amount of damage that traditional wastewater treatment methods are doing to the environment versus the demand for clean, treated water.
Industrial wastewater contains a variety of matters and materials in concentrations that can have a serious impact on nature. Many of these contaminants are toxic, non-degradable, and even carcinogenic. As the wastewater is cast back into the environment, it carries all of these materials with it and poisons local water bodies and soils.
The size of the issue is even more serious than many realize. Water pollution and clean water scarcity are some of the biggest threats to the planet today. Wastewater is one of the direct causes of this pollution, with an estimated 80% of all wastewater being dumped back into the environment without any further treatment.
For a long time, the resolve in terms of this damage was simply:” Nothing to be seen here.” But now, we are at a point where the demand for freshwater globally will soon outnumber the actual amount of water resources we have.
So why have many wastewater treatment plants not taken the necessary steps to make their processes safer for the environment by now? Well, the answer is simple: sheer cost and the need to change existing infrastructure. Wastewater treatment is not cheap, and making massive changes to the system can seem daunting. Without public or government pressure, these changes are unlikely to happen on the scale we need.
At the same time, there is now no choice: environmental health is now at a critical point in which treatment plants can no longer ignore the need to move to new, more environmentally-friendly technologies. Population numbers are growing and the treatment of contaminated wastewater is becoming increasingly important.
Some countries have started to introduce larger-scale overhauls of their wastewater treatment methods in order to meet more stringent environmental regulations. In this article, we’ll be examining new wastewater treatment technologies and how they are revolutionizing environmental safety.
The Problem With Traditional Wastewater Treatment Methods
Why are current wastewater treatment processes so damaging to the environment? There are several different ways that untreated or even semi-treated wastewater can have an impact on the environment, and modern wastewater treatment strategies aren’t always 100% up to snuff.
Wastewater is used for a variety of domestic and industrial uses. Take crops for example - treated wastewater is commonly used to irrigate crops. This means that the treated wastewater will enter the soil and start to mix with the groundwater itself. If all of the contaminants have not been removed, this type of cross-mixing can be dangerous to public health.
This means that wastewater treatment plants need to take a multitude of steps to ensure the water they release into the environment is completely clear of contaminants. These steps can be expensive, difficult to maintain, and a constant struggle to reach the levels set by federal guidelines. Plants that violate the requirements can face fines and other legal penalties which can be financially and operationally detrimental.
This is where the need for new wastewater treatment technologies and more modern approaches comes in. Where more conventional wastewater treatments may be limited due to their cost or environmental impact, many new technologies are steadily becoming more affordable without leaving such a large carbon footprint.
New Wastewater Treatment Technologies
Now that we’ve discussed the problems with traditional methods, it’s time to focus on the future: the approaches that are better for the environment, treatment plant budget, and long-term sustainability.
The first technology of interest to wastewater treatment going forward is thermal hydrolysis. This technology is able to treat wastewater, reduce the byproducts created by biosolid waste and encourage the production of biogas.
Let’s talk about traditional wastewater treatment plants for a second. Their processes typically create a large amount of chemical-laced sludge which needs to be treated further before it can be safely discarded. When thermal hydrolysis is introduced to the system, sludge is no longer just a cast-off product - it becomes a source of energy.
The sludge mixtures are fed to the plant’s reactors via a pulper. Once all the reactor containers are filled, steam is pumped in causing the mixture to reach temperatures high enough to kill all pathogens. From there the now-sterilized sludge is cooled and then fed to anaerobic digesters.
So why is this better than current methods? Well, there are several key benefits. The most major one is the ability to improve the conversion of solids - solids which can be graded as Class-A biosolids that are suitable for land application.
Solar Photocatalytic Treatment
Another new technology that is dealing with the state of wastewater treatment is solar photocatalytic wastewater treatment. This unique new technology can help reduce the amount of sludge produced by treatment plants by as much as 80%.
Solar photocatalytic treatments make use of microbial decomposition and oxidation to tackle the toxins and contaminants found in the sludge through a process known as solar irradiation. When combined with certain chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, the carbon in the sludge is heavily reduced.
Microbial Fuel Cells
This exciting technology upgrade is tackling multiple wastewater treatment purposes at once. Microbial fuel cells, in essence, make use of bacteria to clean untreated wastewater. The biggest advantage? The sludge byproducts created by the treatment process are infused with electrons that can be used to generate electricity.
Once this process has been established on a larger scale across the country, the implications for power generation will be huge. It would be possible to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and reduce the carbon footprint not only of treatment plants but of the country as a whole too.
Wastewater Nutrient Removal
Many of the new technologies available to treatment plants now still require some sort of infrastructure change in order to become environmentally friendly while maintaining regulation levels. In other words, they’re mostly reactive.
What if there were a more proactive solution to wastewater treatment? This is where wastewater nutrient removal is becoming more prominent. What if you could set up your entire collection system to be home to a unique microbial community that can support better wastewater treatment?
This is what In-Pipe’s nutrient removal solution can do for you. Unlike other approaches, nutrient removal will continually put highly efficient bacteria in your system well before the wastewater comes into the plant. The collection system will reach its full potential as a large biological reactor, which can lead to additional plant efficiencies.
So what are the benefits of adding these bacteria to your collection system?
Solids can be broken down into more readily biodegradable food sources for the bacteria, reducing important sewer organics by as much as 40%.
The highly efficient facultative organisms can use either oxygen or nitrogen as an energy source to consume organics. They will do so much more efficiently than the types of bacteria normally found in untreated wastewater, which results in significantly more of the aerobic and anoxic reactions needed for nutrient removal.
More Nitrification and De-Nitrification reactions begin to occur in the collection system, reducing total influent Nitrogen
At the plant level, this means that the microbes are able to get access to nutrients more readily because of the organics in the influent. You can dramatically cut or eliminate your addition of carbon at the plant. What’s more, is that this solution is entirely safe for the environment.
In-Pipe provides a natural biological solution that comes from the soil, not harsh chemicals that can damage your pipes, pumps, and treatment plant. This constant inflow of good bacteria builds a stronger microbial community in your plant. As a modern solution, this one is also one of the most affordable when compared to the ones that require chemical and equipment additions or upgrades at the plant.
Why New Wastewater Treatment Technologies Are Needed Now
As Americans, we are lucky not to have to concern ourselves with where our next fresh drink of water will come from. However, our water isn’t always as safe as we are led to believe - contaminants from lead to arsenic and worse have at some point or another been found in every state across the country.
The problems extend past our need for water into our need for food too. The agricultural sector is not only one of the most prominent users of fresh water, but also one of the most likely polluters. Waste from livestock operations, for example, running into waterways untreated can have a direct impact on the safety of the crops we eat as well as the water that is sent to our taps from underground.
Wastewater carries excessive nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus which are responsible for a phenomenon known as algal blooms - a harmful scum that can be dangerous to both humans and wildlife.
We do need to resolve these problems, but we cannot do it by increasing the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants. Over-dependency on fossil fuels has long been a problem in the industry, and the only way forward is to implement the new technologies that are available before it’s too late to reverse the damage already done.