Increasing resource circularity in wastewater treatment: Environmental implications of technological upgrades
Rufí-Salís, Martí; Petit-Boix, Anna; Leipold, Sina; Villalba, Gara; Rieradevall, Joan; Moliné, Eduard; Gabarrell, Xavier; Carrera, Julián; Suárez-Ojeda, María Eugenia
OPEN ACCESS at Science of the Total Environment, 156422 A paradigm shift is needed in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to progress from traditional pollutant removal to […]
OPEN ACCESS at Science of the Total Environment, 156422
A paradigm shift is needed in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to progress from traditional pollutant removal to resource recovery. However, whether this transformation produces overall environmental benefits will depend on the efficient and sustainable use of resources by emerging technologies. Given that many of these technologies are still being tested at the pilot scale, there is a lack of environmental assessments quantifying their impacts and benefits. In particular, an integrated approach to energy and nutrient recovery can elucidate the potential configurations for WWTPs. In this study, we conduct a life cycle assessment (LCA) of emergent wastewater treatment technologies aimed at increasing resource circularity in WWTPs. We focus on increasing energy self-sufficiency through biogas upgrades and a more radical circular approach aimed at nutrient recovery. Based on a case-study WWTP, we compare its current configuration with (1) implementing autotrophic nitrogen removal in the mainstream and deriving most of the organic matter for biogas production, which increases the quality and quantity of biogas available for energy production; (2) implementing struvite recovery through enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) as a radical approach to phosphorus management, offering an alternative to mineral fertilizer; and (3) a combination of both approaches. The results show that incremental changes in biogas production are insufficient for compensating for the environmental investment in infrastructure, although autotrophic nitrogen removal is beneficial for increasing the quality of the effluent. Combined phosphorus and energy recovery reduce the environmental impacts from the avoided use of fertilizers and phosphorus and the nitrogen release into water bodies. An integrated approach to resource management in WWTPs is thus desirable and creates new opportunities toward the implementation of circular strategies with low environmental impact in cities.