Up to 2% of all electrical power goes to managing wastewater, but a new generation of start-ups is offering improved options, says Lux Research
BOSTON, MA – January 13, 2015 – Traditional options for secondary wastewater treatment burn up way too much energy – 68 GWh annually in the U.S. alone – and still leave behind excessive amounts of sludge. With increasing pressure from growing populations and more frequent severe storm events, there is a dire need to improve this secondary wastewater treatment, according to Lux Research.
As a result, a new crop of technologies is looking to transform wastewater treatment. Successful systems dramatically simplify the wastewater process and scale down easily to serve the hordes of small facilities in the market. Winning technologies harness passive aeration to reduce energy costs and fine tune the microbial population to significantly reduce sludge production.
“Technologies like membrane bioreactors emerged to improve the quality of wastewater treatment, but don’t address the energy and sludge concerns, and the smallest facilities struggle to implement them effectively,” said Tess Murray, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, “Advances in Secondary Wastewater Treatment.”
“Now, new startups are fundamentally rethinking wastewater treatment and effectively addressing energy consumption and sludge generation, which together account for nearly half of the operating costs at today’s plants,” she added.
Lux Research analysts looked at the current wastewater treatment landscape and evaluated five innovative secondary wastewater treatment technologies available. Among their findings:
- Growing population and climate pressure force capacity expansions. The frequency of extreme storm events has increased about 30% in the U.S. over the past 67 years, with states in the Northeast hardest hit. The resulting increase in stormwater, combined with a growing population, puts pressure on treatment facilities.
- Electricity and sludge management are almost half of a plant’s operating costs. Sludge transport and disposal accounts for about a quarter of wastewater treatment plant operating costs, and only about 40% of leftover sludge is put to beneficial use in the U.S. – for example, spread on land as a low-grade crop fertilizer.
- Winners have a variety of ideas for implementing passive aeration. The best alternative systems offered by companies such as Baswood and Aquarius Technologies find new ways to provide the oxygen that microbes need, reducing energy consumption by as much as 50% and sludge production by as much as 90%. The combination of savings adds up, and could save the average wastewater treatment plant as much as $1.1 million in operating expenses per year.
The report, titled “Advances in Secondary Wastewater Treatment,” is part of the Lux Research Water Intelligence service.