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Building the Foundations for Treating Wastewater as a Resource

Published: November 3, 2021

Water treatment is high on the sustainability agenda as we explore ways to improve global water management.

Juan M Lema profile pictuure

Here, Juan M Lema, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Santiago de Compostela and Fellow of the International Water Association (IWA) talks to DSS about how harnessing technology and changing mindsets is essential to move the industry to a more sustainable future.

Q: You have undertaken a lot of research into how water treatment techniques can be improved. What is driving the need for this, and how are organisations responding?

Juan M Lema: There are two main drivers. The first is to become more efficient, and the second is to increase capacity. So, becoming more efficient in how water plants use energy and becoming more efficient in improving wastewater recovery and water quality. To achieve this, companies are exploring a range of options. Some will retrofit existing water plants by adding new units that improve efficiency in treating wastewater. Others are looking at new, larger anaerobic reactors to increase capacity. There’s also a noticeable focus on new technology to improve the management of water treatment and lower the cost. So different strategies all looking to achieve the same outcomes.

Q: How is technology improving operational management in the water treatment space?

Juan M Lema: Operations management is definitely benefitting from improved control systems that focus on technological innovation such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and gathering and analysing big data. It’s an approach that improves visibility and allows management to assess forward-looking metrics on plant capacity or water quality rather than always focussing on lagging trends. So there is a much bigger focus, particularly in the bigger plants, on harnessing technology to gather data at any particular point in the wastewater management cycle so trends and anomalies are spotted allowing managers to plan ahead and improve operational efficiency. As well as helping with plant safety, technology can also be used to link plant controls to weather patterns to make better use of high rainwater volumes that decrease the concentration of pollutants or work at higher capacity during non-peak energy periods to reduce costs. These are all new and exciting ways of using technology to adapt water treatment plants to improve efficiency through the ability to predict patterns. Read full article

The more we can extract bi-products of wastewater and use technology to reuse it for other purposes, the more we can develop a sustainable operating model.

Juan M. Lema, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Santiago de Compostela