Wastewater plant seen from above. Photo credit: Colourbox

Wastewater treatment plants of the future must emit less greenhouse gases

Wednesday 19 Dec 18
|
by Emil Fosgaard Lund

Contact

Xueming Chen
Postdoc
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 81 94 80 80

Contact

Gürkan Sin
Associate Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 29 80

CO2 equivalents

When you hear or read about the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, you are often encountering CO2 equivalents. For example, one tonne of laughing gas in the atmosphere is just as harmful as 300 tonnes of CO2. It is to make this subject more accessible, that CO2 gets mentioned instead of CO2 equivalents.

The UN uses simplified emission factors to estimate laughing gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants. Now, DTU researchers will optimize models for better understanding on how to reduce the emission.

CO2 is often cited as the main contributor to global climate change due to its abundance in the atmosphere. But another and much more potent greenhouse gas N2O, also known as laughing gas in layman’s term, is actually 300 times worse than CO2 when it comes to the global warming effect.

A new EU funded research project, AMACONOE, at DTU Chemical Engineering will therefore try to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly focusing on N2O, at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) by using optimized models.

Improving simplified models
“UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only uses simplified fixed emission factors to estimate N2O emissions from wastewater treatment plants, neglecting the link between emissions and process configurations as well as operating conditions”, says Xueming Chen, postdoc at DTU Chemical Engineering.

The goal of the project is to construct and optimize models capable of predicting N2O’s presence at WWTPs using collected data since the current ones are not thorough enough. More importantly, the project aims to develop methods to reduce emission of N2O based on the abovementioned models.

“If we can develop a model which takes these factors into consideration, then we have the opportunity to develop methods to design new wastewater treatment plants as well as retrofitting existing ones, which can help us reduce emission of N2O”.

"Timely and effective actions should be taken to deal with the global climate change issue. In the wastewater sector, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. To do this, a close collaboration between academia and industry plays a key role"
Xueming Chen

Collaboration is key for implementing sustainable solutions
On their own, greenhouse gases are not a bad thing for the environment. On the contrary, these greenhouse gases aid the heating of Earth so life like ours can exist. The problem arises when the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere exceeds a limit where nature can no longer convert these, which happened after humanity started burning coal and oil.

“Timely and effective actions should be taken to deal with the global climate change issue. In the wastewater sector, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. To do this, a close collaboration between academia and industry plays a key role”, says Xueming Chen and adds,

“Our ambition is to develop a data repository with full scale N2O data which we aim to share and exchange with researchers worldwide”.

The AMACONOE project is still in its early phase and loads of data, both from literature and WWTPs, need to be collected in order to give reasonable suggestions for solutions that will benefit the environment as well as the industrial sector, which tends to want profitable solutions.

AMACONOE is funded until summer 2020 through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme.