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Advancing resource recovery - new report


An international report that takes an investor’s perspective to recovering resources from wastewater has been welcomed by the water industry as an important step toward sustainability of water management.

The report Wastewater – An Untapped Resource?, instigated and funded by the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence, was cited in Utility magazine in an article outlining investments by water company SUEZ in wastewater treatment.

SUEZ General Manager Operation in Australia and New Zealand, Mark Lautre promoted the research and outlined SUEZ's commitment to wastewater recovery in its successful operation of a fully automated co-digestion plant at Glenelg Water Water Treatment Plant in South Australia and its contribution to towards Strasbourg Urban Community becoming the first in France to inject biomethane produced from a local wastewater treatment plant into its natural gas network.

The research report was recently launched by Professor John Thwaites, Chair of Melbourne Water and former Deputy Premier of Victoria, and welcomed by the water industry as an important step toward sustainability of water management in Australia.

“This report will be influential with organisations like Melbourne Water but also hopefully with the private sector here in Australia, and government,” he said. “It is also being noticed overseas because the issue of resource recovery is something many countries are grappling with, but translating that into action is the big challenge.”

Undertaken by the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE), the report finds that increased pressure from population growth, higher demand for natural resources, rising costs and growing community expectations, will require the water industry to develop innovative and more efficient processes to optimise resource recovery from wastewater.

The report was developed by a working group led by Dr John Burgess, a chemical engineer who has more than 20 years’ experience as a research leader and industry senior executive with BHP Limited, where he held responsibilities for research and company strategy. It included Professor Damien Batstone, Deputy Director of the Advanced Water Management Centre at the University of Queensland, Dr Tim Muster, a Senior Research Scientist from CSIRO Land and Water, and Mr Francis Pamminger, Manager of Research and Innovation at Yarra Valley Water.

Part of the research identified key reasons for the success of a number of successful resource recovery initiatives by undertaking economic analysis of resource recovery operations in Australia (dried and pelletised biosolid production for fertiliser by Barwon Water, Victoria) and overseas (struvite and other fertiliser production by Ostera partners in Oregon, USA, biomass production for fertiliser by Milwaulkee Metropolitan Sewerage District, USA, and energy co-generation by East Bay Municipal Utility district, USA).

In addition, operations in Germany by Hamburg Wasser, in the UK by Scottish Water and in the Netherlands by TU Delft and DHV were considered as well as assessing the impact of technology breakthroughs on value creation using existing Australian research to identify resource recovery options for Australia over the next 20 years.

The report made key recommendations to convert industry interest in resource recovery to practice detailing a ‘real options approach’ to assessing resource recovery projects that incorporates a wide range of avoided costs and economic uncertainties, using probabilistic methodologies.

Other recommendations include focussing on: 

• innovative business models that include private sector involvement
• ongoing participation in the development of new wastewater treatment technologies
• Regulatory recognition for resource recovery operations in the form of feed-in tariffs for energy generation and renewable energy incentives.

The report concluded that emerging energy-efficient process technologies, such as the generation of biogas from sewage and waste and cogeneration of electricity, appear to be economically viable for larger scales of wastewater treatment plant operation, nominally above 50ML/day.

Sensitivity analysis showed that key controlling parameters in Australia are the capital cost differentials with conventional technologies and the avoided electricity costs associated with water treatment available through the new technologies.

The report also concluded that in some cases, the sales of surplus electricity generated at the plant and the sales of nitrogen and phosphorus resource recovery products, also add to the economic viability of the option, as does the revenue stream from the disposal of organic waste in the co-digestion case.

At the Melbourne launch Mr Pamminger, on behalf of the Water Services Association of Australia, said the report was an important building block towards integrating resource recovery into water businesses.

He said the report looks at successful operations from around the world and from a water industry perspective sought to address the question: “why can’t we do it here?”

He commended the financial model in the report to water authority engineers as a way to approach complexity and variability when undertaking project options analysis in the modern day.

“The importance of this project has been researchers coming together with industry and presenting results, together with a business focus, that allows us to go forward,” he said.