Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reflecting on SIWW2014 and Nepal2014

This summer I went to my first Singapore International Water Week (SIWW for those in the know). It was an excellent experience and thought I'd reflect on what I'd seen.

If I had to sum up what SIWW is all about, I'd say it was a truly global center for water professionals to network. I've been to other international conferences that do a decent job of connecting utilities, and/or consultants; others do a great job of connecting researchers and academics; still others connect regulators and policy makers... now SIWW somehow manages to bring all of them together. That's quite an acheivement. I'm a process engineer, which means I appreciate technologies and how we apply them to solve water issues. Until recently I've not really appreciated the value of networking with diverse water experts from around the world, but more and more I understand the axiom "it's who you know, not what you know." Of course it's nice to know a bit too and by rubbing shoulders with smart international experts you get to add to your own knowledge.

Fast forward to October 2014 and I'm about to head off to the IWA Specialist Conference "Sustainable Wastewater Treatment and Resource Recovery" in Nepal. I'm intrigued to see the diversity of water professionals at this conference in comparison to SIWW. In addition to diversity across the various roles in the water industry, I'll be interested to see a greater diversity across geopolitical boundaries which will help us to see the differences and commonalities across our profession. I've only worked in already-developed nations and seen wastewater treatment through the narrow lense of technologically intensive and centralized approaches. It will be good to take a step back and out to see how different nations are tackling wastewater treatment. There's a distinct possibility that other nations, still developing their infrastructure, can by-pass some of the mistakes we've taken in the West and jump ahead to more sustainable solutions directly. That's what I'm hoping for in the discussion segments of a workshop I'm helping to lead: "Workshop D: Leapfrogging to off- the- grid biological nutrient removal (October 27, 2014)". We'll see. Should be interesting...


Friday, April 4, 2014

WWTmod2014 - The Process Design and Optimization Seminar

I'm sitting in Brussels airport the day after the last day of the latest in a series of seminars focused on process modeling under the moniker "wwtmod" for "waste-water treatment modeling." The previous 3 biannual wwtmod's were held at Mont-Sainte-Anne, just outside Quebec City in Canada, but the latest in the series - WWTmod2014 - was held in the lovely European town of Spa, Belgium. In this blog I'd like to summarise a few of the many highlights of WWTmod2014, but first I'd like to digress a little to ponder the name and the focus of this seminar series.

WWTmod2008 was first concieved to be a follow-up to a series of modeling-focused seminars called "Kolle-kolle" which I'm told were an excellent set of seminars in the 1990's to discuss wastewater treatment models, from which the IWA's "ASM" activated sludge models were developed. Process models have come a long way since the 1990's, shifting from the realm of academia to mainstream design and operations also. Any consultancy worth it's salt will use process models to develop or refine their designs. In fact, it's all but impossible to design a good nutrient removal facility doing nitrogen and phosphorus removal without the use of models. A few stalwart old-scholers might argue differently but they're a fading voice. This has meant that the WWTmod seminars, from the very start, have pulled together academia and practitioners to discuss process models and these models are now at the heart of process design. Despite the name including "mod" in the title, the seminars very quickly shifted into discussions about the mechanisms and processes that go into the models and so I'd argue that it is now the premiere seminar for process designers and those wanting optimize their waste water plant operations (maybe using models to help!) I can't think of another conference that draws together the top researchers from universities with experts from practice, the way that it's done at WWTmod. If you're a university researcher wanting to understand the challenges of practice, come to a WWTmod seminar. If you're a practitioner wanting to discover the latest tools and techniques to overcome your challenges, come to a WWTmod seminar!

So, what were the highlights of the latest, WWTmod2014? The program covered a broad range of topics in wastewater treatment, from screenings and grit to model extensions for trace organics; the latest in nitrogen reaction pathways and current thinking on phosphorus removal; primary settler and secondary settler performance; integrated modeling and LCA. At the closing session, the chairman of the scientific committee, Ingmar Nopens, had a slide with a few "Useful Quotes and Concepts", so maybe I'll focus on those:

"Wipers versus Washers" - there's nothing like the topic of bum wiping to get a partly humorous and partly serious discussion going on wastewater treatment. It's not pleasant to discuss the fate of toilet paper but there are serious considerations when it comes to understanding the biodegradability of the material when it gets to the treatment plant. If it's not biodegradable, it uses up treatment capacity and increases the mass of residuals that have to be handled. If it is biodegradable, it's a valuable source of material for biogas generation. Ultimately there wasn't a consensus on its biodegradability, but on the whole it was thought that it wasn't too degradable within the wastewater treatment plant (despite what it says on roll!)

The "Drinker-Barman Concept" - trying to be a little radical, I suggested that the Monod equation, near and dear to the hearts of all who model biological processes, may be past its sell-by date and that consideration of diffusion may be key to shifting to simpler kinetics where the "intrinsic" half-saturation coefficient can be ignored. I'm already getting too much into the details here but needless to say I had to use a nice analogy involving beer to make my point and hopefully make it more palitable!

"Communism/socialism versus capitalism in biological processes" - Dr Zhiguo Yuan discussed how the models we use assume that substrate is shared evenly amongst the different organisms that use it (like socialism shares out everything) but in fact there is competition for the substrate that is akin to biological capitalism.

"Being within the law is not always the good thing" - Dr George Ekama has produced many of the most memorable quotes at these seminars. A few years back he said (I'll get it wrong, but hopefully close enough): "The main problem is to keep the main problem the main problem" and he's also the source of the wipers quote above. His latest quote may sound revolutionary but it's really meant to highlight that some of regulations that govern treatment standards don't always result in the best overall environmental solution. In particular we discussed the focus on carbon emissions at wastewater treatment facilities and legislation pushing them to reduce energy use and carbon footprint when in fact the carbon emissions per person served by a treatment plant is peanuts - maybe less than 1% of their overall emissions - and they'd be better driving less or using less hot water.

Beyond these highlights another fun part of the conference was the use of twitter to post comments. I confess I was a twittering fool but it was fun! Check out the hashtag #wwtmod2014 to see!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Trends for 2014 and Beyond...

It's the turn of the year and the TV is full of "specials" recounting the events of 2013 - new births, famous people passing away, sports triumphs and tragedies, conflicts, other newsworthy events - and then there will be folks pondering what 2014 might hold for us all that's different from 2013. If we're honest, nobody can predict what 2014 will be like. Perhaps it will be a quiet and uneventful year, or perhaps there will be some major new conflict or natural disaster that will throw us all for a loop. Maybe aliens will contact us. OK, I'd better stop now as I'm stretching the speculation a little too far! Probably because I've watched one sci-fi movie too many.

I thought it would be interesting to ponder some possible trends in wastewater in North America for 2014. I'll likely be way off on some of these but hopefully one or two will hit the mark, so here goes with my predictions for 2014 and beyond!

1. Increased use of Envision for truly sustainable design

Released last year, the Envision evaluation scheme from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), has the potential to radically shift the way we look at wastewater treatment design. In the same way that LEED caught the imagination of the building industry, I can see this really taking off over the next few years. I might be a bit biased because I'm helping to keep track of the roll out of Envision within Black & Veatch, but I really do think it will take off and most folks who know anything about it seem to hold a similar opinion.

2. Nutrient Removal becomes the norm for everyone

A couple of years ago there was a push by an environmental group to have nutrient removal included as part of the definition for "secondary treatment." Within our industry there was a strong push back and it never got anywhere. At the time I remember thinking that the main reason it failed is that they were advocating for extremely low nutrient limits near the limit of technology (like 0.1 mg/L phosphorus and 3 mg/L nitrogen or something like that - I forget the exact numbers). If, however, they'd proposed a more reasonable set of limits for basic nutrient removal, say 2 mg/L of phosphorus and 15 mg/L nitrogen, then they may have had more traction within wastewater treatment professionals in general. In 2013, WEF and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) started discussions on a Nutrient Roadmap, which may start to pave the way for more folks doing nutrient removal and maybe one day everyone doing it? Until then, there are plenty of regulations that will push utilities into doing it anyway, so nutrient removal will become the norm rather than the exception.

3. Increased focus on EDCs,PPPs, ECs, MCs, AC/DCs (whatever you want to call them!)

When I started work in the wastewater industry back in the early 1990's, the new hot topic was endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC). Fast forward 20 years and the new hot topic is still EDCs, though they've added some other trace organic compounds to the list and the name keeps changing! (Micro-pollutants this week maybe?). But recent pilot trials at Swiss wastewater treatment plants to put in advanced equipment to remove these nasties makes me think the focus and action on these trace contaminants will only increase.

4. Life-Cycle Thinking comes of age

I've written on life cycle assessments (LCA) in a previous blog, so I probably shouldn't keep banging on about it, but I do think that we'll see more and more use of Life-cycle thinking in our business. In fact the Envision method I mentioned already advocates LCA for assessing potential environmental benefits.

5. More resources online

Where do I start? Wefcom, WaterWiki, Waterworld, Engineers Toolbox... there's so much information on the internet focused on water and wastewater, I hardly know where to start. Maybe that's a good topic for a future blog? But for sure we'll see more and more useful information online and in electronic format.

OK, so those are my predictions for 2014. What are your predictions for 2014? How about other parts of the world?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

WEFTEC 2013 Debrief (aka the post-WEFTEC blues!)

Opening Sessions

WEFTEC 2013 came and went several weeks ago, busting all sorts of records over previous years, so I'm a little tardy in giving my impression of this year's event, but here goes anyway...

Innovation Showcase

The Good

So, what were some of the highlights for me? Here in no particular order are the things that impressed me this year:

  1. The Venue: the layout of the bookstore and global meeting center right outside the entrance; the exhibition floor right underneath the rooms for the technical sessions; posters right outside the session rooms and electronic versions showing on flat-screen TVs... even a screen for tweets! The conference center was very-nicely laid out.
  2. People: I love being able to catch up with colleagues I've not seen for some time. Though I'm a technologist at heart, as I get older (cue cheezy violin music) I appreciate reconnecting with colleagues I've not seen for a while and getting to know new colleagues. You can transfer knowledge and ideas via web-based seminars, conference calls and the like, but nothing beats meeting people face to face.
  3. Innovation Showcase: One of the few sessions I did get to attend was held at the Innovation Showcase where Yaniv Scherson presented on his CANDO process and several others presented some great and innovative ideas. There was also a session here to discuss the development of a Nutrient Roadmap, which should be pretty interesting.
  4. Workshops: I have to say I really enjoy the interactive nature of workshops versus the somewhat formal and stuffy format of technical session presentations. This year I somehow managed to help out with 3 different workshops over 2 days - sustainability, modeling and energy. I don't recommend that to anyone, but I do recommend anyone to attend workshops in the future. You learn a heck of a lot more than just watching a paper presentation.
  5. Opening sessions: I used to skip the opening sessions because I presumed they were too high level or not relevant for the kinds of things I focus on, but a couple of years back a good friend and colleague, Sudhir Murthy, encouraged me to attend an opening session and I have to say I was pretty impressed. This year's opening session and the following session by water leaders from around the world were pretty inspirational and very well done (photo at the top was the Water Leaders session).
  6. The Inaugural Bookshop Quiz! And not just because my colleagues from B&V and our client from St Cloud were the winners (see photo below). This was a bit of an experiment for WEF and by my reckoning it was an outstanding success and hope we do it again next year.
Bookshop Quiz 2014 Winners

The Not-so-good (PC term for Bad, I guess?!)

Overall WEFTEC in Chicago surpassed itself this year (are you listening New Orleans?!). So I only have a couple of nit-picky negatives that you can skip right over if you're a glass half-full kind of person (I think I'm a glass at 50% capacity person myself - figure that one out!). Here they are:

  1. Location: OK the venue is awesome, but it's too bloody far from the awesome hotels, restaurants and other delights of downtown Chicago. I hear rumours that the City has plans to build up the area around the conference center which would be great. Maybe they can add a light rail link or tram too? We stayed at the Sheraton on the north side of downtown and it was pretty cool to take the shuttle bus down some secret road under the city and down to the convention center, but I'm guessing others didn't have quite the same fun with their long queues and rush-hour bus rides back into the city.
  2. Too much to see: Maybe it's just because I'm a "Yes Man" and involved in too many things, but this year, with all the committee activities and what-not (including doing a mid-term exam - don't ask) I barely saw a handful of presentations. At some point I need to go through the proceedings and see what I missed.
  3. The submission process: This is probably a contentious one and may come across stronger than I intend, but I have issues with both the workshop submission process and the abstract submission process. The workshop submission process starts too soon (less than a month after WEFTEC), has too many steps and is contrained by an inflexible rubric that has only one format in mind. The paper abstract submission format and process used to be OK i.e. develop a 3 page Word document and a few figures. Now it's a nasty process of developing some text of indeterminate length with figures kept separate in pure graphical form, then you use some weird coding to get your figures and tables (haven't figured out a tidy way to handle tables) into the text, hopefully in the right spot. A little knowledge of html coding is helpful. Maybe this is a little unfair as it's not quite as bad as I make out as long as you know the process ahead of time. And I've never been asked to review any papers for WEFTEC so I'm hoping that maybe the new system makes the review process easier somehow.

OK, so WEFTEC 2013 is over and I'd say it was probably the best one yet. The bar is pretty high for New Orleans and WEFTEC 2014!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Heading to WEFTEC 2013

I'm currently sitting on a SouthWest Airlines flight from DC heading to Chicago for WEFTEC13 (feel like I should hashtag that somehow but I just saw Jimmy Fallon's #hashtag skit so maybe I won't!)

So what does WEFTEC have in store for us this year? I've been attending WEFTECs since 1999 and every year I'm amazed by the sheer number of papers, exhibits and interactions that go on. Some years it gets a bit overwhelming as it's impossible to see everything and meet everyone you want to catch up with. And I think I have suffered from burn-out from seeing so many conferences year after year, but this year I'm pretty impressed with some of the innovative ideas the WEFTEC organizers have come up with to keep it interesting and a bit different than previous years. Here are a few ways they've done so:

Innovation Showcase : I'm impressed with WEFTEC embracing innovation with focused events under the umbrella of the innovation showcase. They've been doing this for a few years now, I think, but this year it caught my eye and I plan to attend at least some of the events (too much stuff to see and do!)

Meet the Expert: My good friend and colleague, Dr James Barnard, and other experts will be available to answer your burning questions on nutrients and all sorts of other water topics.

The Mobile App: This is a very cool app, being easy to use and full of all the information you'll need to figure out where you need to be and when. My only criticism is that I can't export the calendar or sync with Outlook (I'm obviously too busy as Outlook rules and governs my every move it seems!).

Last, but by no means least is the Bookstore Quiz! And not just because I'm one of the judges. This should be fun so come and show your wastewater know-how with the chance to win $500.

So, I've now arrived in Chicago and I'm ready to see what WEFTEC holds. Workshops over the next couple of days and then the main events and sessions starting Monday. I look forward to seeing some of you there (especially at the quiz, OK?).


Saturday, September 21, 2013

W is for water

Last, but by no means least in our consideration of resource recovery, is Water. It seems obvious to say that the most valuable resource we can recover from waste-water is most often the water itself. In arid regions like Israel, Cyprus, Nevada and Southern California, the pressure on water resources is so great that there is little choice but to reuse the "used water" (to borrow a phrase from Singapore). In other regions, water stress is not yet a concern but it's coming as populations increase and weather patterns shift.

The topic of water reuse is huge and well-established and I don't think I could do it justice in a blog such as this. Instead, I just want to highlight a few interesting articles. The August edition of the IWA Journal, Water 21 has a nice article on global water reuse that I highly recommend. Unfortunately you have to be an IWA member to access the article, or you can buy the book on which the article was based!

The Energy-Water Nexus is a topic that's courts a lot of attention, and rightly so. Energy is a key element that drives economic development and the modern amenities the western world has come to rely on. Energy production requires a lot of water and water production and wastewater treatment require energy which links the two quite strongly. I should note that the balance in this linkage is pretty skewed toward Energy production needing a huge volume of water whereas water production and wastewater treatment requires a small piece of the energy pie! There are many, many article discussing this topic. Here's one for starters.

Extending this topic a little further, we need to think about the other activity that uses a huge quantity of water, and that's agriculture. I'm not a water resources guy (poop engineer remember!) so it was really enlightening to see the water source and use diagrams for the US. The amount we use and produce for domestic use is tiny in comparison to irrigation and energy production. Ecowest has an informative presentation that describes some figures produced by the Lawrence Livermore National, in their case focusing on the western states of the US.

So, where does this leave us in thinking about water reclamation and resource recovery? Certainly it's a topic that is region specific. If you have an abundance of water and sources of a high quality, then it makes most sense to treat our wastewater and return it to the natural environment to help preserve our rivers and waterways as we've traditionally done it treatment plants for years. But in regions where there's a shortage of water we need to see our wastewater streams as valuable sources for reclamation and reuse. I like to think of it in a wider context of reduce-reuse-recycle. First of all, let's use whatever measures we can to conserve and not waste the water - in our homes, industries, agriculture and energy prodcution. Then let's look for ways of reusing water within these different arenas. Then finally we look at treating and recycling the used water at our wastewater treatment plants.

As I said, this is a huge topic and way beyond the scope of a little blog like this. But hopefully I've helped you to stop and think about the part that wastewater treatment facilities can play in our regional water cycles and to see the value of our most precious resource of all: water.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Energy Info

I thought about giving this blog a corny name like "Sourcing Energy Info" but on seconds thoughts that might be too confusing! Before I turn my attention to the "W" in resorurce recovery, I wanted to wrap up the discussion of Energy by passing on a few of my favorite websites on the topic. Not the most riveting of blogs for sure, but I want my blogs to contain useful information through the links and not just be this crazy limey blathering on about his latest beef or pet project! So here are a few sites I've found in the mass of information on the glorious mess that is the world-wide-web (do we still call it that, or am I showing my age already?).

U.S. Energy Information Administration (

This one has to be the top of the pile for any data junkies like me. They have historical data for every energy source by state, end use and major energy provider. If you want to know the $/kWh for electricity or $/btu for natural gas, and heaven knows what other pricing or production stats, this is the place to start. Although focused on US pricing, they have some good International stuff and their Energy Outlook takes a shot at trying to guesstimate future energy costs. A warning to data junkies though, you may find yourselves lost in piles of data for days on end so have a friend feed your cat whilst you're using it!

U.S. EPA ( or

The EPA website has to be one of the most data-rich but frustrating sites I've used over the years. They have a huge amount of information - data, electronic documents, maps - but it can be tough to dig into it to find any of the useful stuff. Thankfully their search is pretty good and so you can usually find what you're looking for after a while. On the topic of energy in wastewater treatment facilities, I recommend starting with: as the front door to a lot of general information to help folks to be more energy efficient. Another good spot to look is the Energy Star site which includes a section for wastewater treatment (which, ironically, I can no longer find!!!). Portfolio manager is the closest thing to a national standard for assessing energy efficiency at a treatment facility. I'm not a big fan of their regression analysis for the scoring (maybe a topic for a future blog!) but as a tool for assessing energy performance and planning improvements it's pretty decent.

The Ecoinvent Database (

In a previous blog I spoke about Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) as a powerful tool for assessing the environmental impact of processes and products. A huge piece in the LCA puzzle is energy use and so the LCA databases are a great source for understanding how such diverse things as chemical use or driving to/from the treatment plant are tied to global energy use. As noted in that article, I access the databases through the Simapro simulator.

Water Environment Research Foundation (

My last blog focussed heavily on the work being done by WERF, so I won't go on about it agian, except to point you toward their Energy Knowledge Area: (hmmm, you'd think we could have a shorter URL...)

Wikipedia (

"Really Andy, you're suggesting Wikipedia as a useful reference? It's not peer reviewed and there's also sorts of mis-information on there." Well, I have to confess to being a big fan of Wikipedia. If you need a basic overview of any topic such as what the heck is a Carnot cycle or a Rankine Engine, I can't think of a better place to start than Wikipedia. Usually you get a nice and succinct definition in a paragraph or two and a link to sites with more depth and then some reasonable references at the end if you want to chase more information. I've heard the criticism that it's not peer reviewed and may be full of errors, but I've seen errors in books and supposedly peer-reviewed papers. Many text books and most papers have a myopic view of topics that is put to shame by the consensus approach of Wikipedia. If I ever get to the point of being a prof in a University I'll tell my students to use Wikipedia and other web-based resources instead of text books as much as possible. (Come on, tell me I'm crazy!)

So, there are a handful of sites to get you started in your investigations into Energy and wastewater treatment. I'd be interested in hearing from others on useful sites you've found so please comment below!