Proof of concept for a new energy-positive wastewater treatment scheme
For improved exploitation of the energy content present in the organic matter of raw sewage, an innovative concept for treatment of municipal wastewater is tested in pilot trials and assessed in energy balance and operational costs. The concept is based on a maximum extraction of organic matter into the sludge via coagulation, flocculation and microsieving (100 µm mesh size) to increase the energy recovery in anaerobic sludge digestion and decrease aeration demand for carbon mineralisation. Pilot trials with real wastewater yield an extraction of 70–80% of total chemical oxygen demand into the sludge while dosing 15–20 mg/L Al and 5–7 mg/L polymer with stable operation of the microsieve and effluent limits below 2–3 mg/L total phosphorus. Anaerobic digestion of the microsieve sludge results in high biogas yields of 600 NL/kg organic dry matter input (oDMin) compared to 430 NL/kg oDMin for mixed sludge from a conventional activated sludge process. The overall energy balance for a 100,000 population equivalent (PE) treatment plant (including biofilter for post-treatment with full nitrification and denitrification with external carbon source) shows that the new concept is an energy-positive treatment process with comparable effluent quality than conventional processes, even when including energy demand for chemicals production. Estimated operating costs for electricity and chemicals are in the same range for conventional activated sludge processes and the new concept.