Liam Curran of Enterprise Ireland describes how innovative Irish companies are developing new solutions to meet emerging trends in water and wastewater management.
The need to reduce energy usage is paramount, says Liam Curran, senior technologist at Enterprise Ireland.
“The production of potable water and the treatment of waste water is highly energy intensive, mainly in relation to pumping and aeration. The industry is estimated to account for 2% – 4% of global energy usage, so anything that can improve on that is very welcome.”
Wastewater meets the Internet of Things
Increasingly the sector is turning to Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to drive efficiencies.
“IoT has become a hot topic right across the entire network, whether municipal or industrial. In the management of river catchment we are seeing the installation of smart monitors upstream to optimise everything from when to take water, to water quality, to the impact of weather events such as heavy rainfall.”
Smart devices are increasingly used in treatment plants. “In future you will be able to remotely monitor and manage plant in water facilities before sending water into potable water networks. Once there you’ll use detectors to monitor changes in pressure so precisely that you will be able to dig within a metre of a leak,” he says.
Once used, either commercially or domestically, smart devices in sewers will monitor waste water issues such as flooding. Wastewater treatment plants will be remotely monitored and run and, when waste water is treated and released, the receiving catchment will be monitored via IoT sensors for environmental issues.
Recovering resources from wastewater
Wastewater is increasingly in the spotlight as a result of the growing trend for emerging resource recovery. “In the past we saw wastewater as a problem to be disposed of. Now it’s all about resource recovery – extracting as much value as possible from wastewater,” says Curran.
This includes deriving value from the fact that waste water is typically 10% above ambient temperatures. “The focus now is on ways to recover that heat energy and, for example, using the heat from waste water leaving a building to heat that building,” he says.
“Waste water is also rich in organic matter that could be run through an anaerobic digester to create bio-methane which you could clean and burn as an energy source. Technologies already exist to recover nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen from waste water. And indeed the water itself can be recovered. Already places such as California, Florida and parts of the Middle East are treating waste water to a point where it is suitable for such reuse as irrigation or industrial purposes.”
Such activities will increasingly be demanded by companies keen to meet environmental standards too.
Emerging contaminants of concern include pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and their removal is another area set for growth. “In the past the world hasn’t really considered the impact of PPCPs on water, but if you take medications such as antidepressants, hormone compounds or analgesics, they exit the body unchanged and enter into wastewater systems. If you go looking for aspirin downstream of municipal waste water systems, you will find it in rivers and lakes. Questions are increasingly being asked around the impact these compounds have on the environment.”
Antibiotics in wastewater
With concerns over antibiotic resistance growing worldwide, demand is growing for technologies to destroy antibiotics in wastewater too.
Anxiety is also growing about the impact of microplastics, whether from plastic packaging, microbeads in showergels or from synthetic clothing such as fleeces. “The vast majority comes from degradation of plastic materials and run off from streets, because the sewer system and stormwater run offs are combined, but the fact remains that our water treatment plants are not designed to remove microplastics,” says Curran.
Irish companies turning wastewater green
A number of innovative Irish companies are working to solve such challenges however. OxyMem in Athlone has developed a low energy wastewater treatment using gas permeable membrane technology.
Ireland has strong national capability in relation to Internet of Things technologies too, as well as extensive data analytics expertise from companies such as Compass Informatics in Dublin, which has developed a product for municipal wastewater treatment biosolids management.
In Galway NVP Energy has developed wastewater treatment technology that removes organic pollution while producing biogas. It is currently in use at a meat processing plant in Lurgan. “One of the major advantages it offers is that they have taken 75% of the organic load off the existing treatment plant,” says Curran.