Review highlights obsolete wastewater assessment practices

August 26, 2013 by Kerry Faulkner
Review highlights obsolete wastewater assessment practices
None of these documents provided a complete and comprehensive review on wastewater treatment LCA studies and defined the challenges for the forthcoming years, Prof Foley says. Credit: Dan Hartung

Scientists' methodologies need to be updated to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing field, according to a review of international research papers which investigated wastewater treatment.

A team of international researchers assessed 45 papers dealing with Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of wastewater treatment, a technique which assesses the environmental impacts for all stages of 'production'.

UWA Adjunct Professor Jeff Foley says LCA is not an absolute tool and can only make comparisons between functionally equivalent products and processes.

But the review of existing literature highlighted that within international standards (ISO), there is a lack of consensus on defining functional unit and system boundaries for waste water treatment LCA studies.

"In our opinion, none of these documents provided a complete and comprehensive review on wastewater treatment LCA studies and defined the challenges for the forthcoming years," he says.

"The outcomes of similar studies are difficult to compare and may even give conflicting results depending on how functional unit and system boundaries are defined.

"This is compounded by the availability of several different impact assessment methodologies, which are also constantly evolving.

"So establishing the functional unit and system boundaries is critical, and can substantially alter the study outcomes."

Prof Foley says one of the key challenges for the field is the towards resource recovery, away from the traditional purpose of which has been simply cleaning up a waste stream for environmental protection.

Resource recovery requires the researcher to think about treatment facilities as being production facilities, producing a new product that can be used or reused in the economy.

"The most visible example of this paradigm shift is the reuse of for agriculture," Prof Foley says.

"The use of WWTP [ plant] biosolids displaces the use of other synthetic fertilisers, urea or super phosphate for example.

"By considering the WWTP as a resource recovery facility which produces saleable products, we have to widen our system boundary for the LCA.

"We need to consider the benefits and costs that arise by displacing other products in the economy.

"A comprehensive LCA study then needs to consider the impacts of this product displacement.

The research findings "Life Cycle Assessment Applied to Wastewater Treatment: state of the art" is published in Water Research.

Explore further: Household sewage: Not waste, but a vast new energy resource

More information: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S004313541300540X

Related Stories

Household sewage: Not waste, but a vast new energy resource

January 5, 2011

In a finding that gives new meaning to the adage, "waste not, want not," scientists are reporting that household sewage has far more potential as an alternative energy source than previously thought. They say the discovery, ...

A practical guide to green products and services

May 15, 2012

A new report published today by the European Commission's in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), provides key information for policy makers and business managers on how to assess the environmental impacts ...

Key find for treating wastewater on World Water Day

March 26, 2013

A newly developed membrane used to separate waste from water could become key in the treatment of pollutants ranging from acid mine drainage to oil-containing wastewater, as well as in processes ranging from desalination ...

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

'Carbon sink' detected underneath world's deserts

July 28, 2015

The world's deserts may be storing some of the climate-changing carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, a new study suggests. Massive aquifers underneath deserts could hold more carbon than all the plants on land, according ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.