Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nitrogen Removal 3.0

There's a buzz in the wastewater community right now. It's not often someone discovers a whole new mechanism for treatment and it is causing quite a stir. Not since Dr James Barnard formalized biological phosphorus removal in the 1970s has there been so much excitement. The reason? Anaerobic ammonia oxidation or "Anammox". On paper, this process removes nitrogen from wastewater using less than half the energy of traditional nitrification/denitrification, no carbon addition and little sludge production. In the early part of this century several process configurations and patents have been issued that use anammox to remove nitrogen from high strength wastes, including ANAMMOX by Paques, DEMON by Cyklar-Stulz and ANITA Mox by AnoxKaldnes. These processes are proving to be robust and very successful for high ammonia concentration wastes such as the "sidestreams" from sludge treatment at domestic wastewater treatment plants. The trick now is to take these ideas and make them work on the "mainstream" where the wastewater is much weaker and the temperatures lower than sidestreams. WERF is coordinating research projects to this very end. Could 2013 be the year when we see anammox go mainstream? I'm hopeful that it is!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reflections on the 2012 IWA World Water Congress in Busan, Korea

Last week I attended the International Water Association (IWA) World Water Congress (WWC) in Busan, South Korea. The WWC is the highest level conference for IWA and so attracts the widest attention, I think. This high level focus has some definite plusses and maybe some minuses too. As a a person that likes to see the world as a glass half full (though it's really always totally full - add link to Pinterest geek thingy), let's dispose of the minuses in short order and focus on the positives. The main minus of a conference such as this is that, with such a diverse audience of water professionals - water resources, water treatment, water supply, used water collection (I returned via Singapore so I'm now versed in the correct vernacular!), used water treatment, reuse, stormwater/drainage, governance, public communications and so on - it's tough to dig deep into issues. However, on the positive side, the very fact that we have such a diverse set of foci and the very diverse geographical affords us the opportunity to take a higher level look at a wide range of topics.

The buzz word for the conference and for IWA in general is "smart." I'm told that this is a British buzz word which is probably why I'm quite comfortable with it. In a very interesting workshop on "Smart Networks" I saw a very nice definition of smart from a Korean colleague. In their definition a smart system is adaptable and can work with future unknowns, whereas an "intelligent" system knows how to work within current constraints based on historical information but is clueless when it comes to working outside of the current realm of knowledge. I like this notion of "smart" versus "intelligent" or knowledgable as it puts in mind someone who is on their toes and trying to be ready for the unforeseeable, whereas an intelligent system based on past knowledge is only comfortable in dealing with things that it has seen in the past. Of course the "smart" course of action builds on past knowledge and develops its intelligence based on historical experience but it is not constrained by it and is ready to adapt to new challenges as they appear. In another workshop on "Smart Utilities" there was a discussion on what "smart" actually means. We can appreciate it when we see it (Singapore is rightly held up as a good example of a smart water utility for example), but we seem to have difficulty in defining it. I'd like to offer a working definition for "smart" as it applies to the water industry. Here goes...

A "smart" water system (network, utility, etc) uses the intelligence gained from historic data collection and the tacit knowledge of it's professionals to provide a system that is robust and adaptable to accommodate current normal demands, future perceived demands and potential anomalous conditions.

How's that for a definition? Please comment or send me an e-mail on your thoughts. Of course, I'm guessing others have already defined "smart" for other systems and have a much better definition but working in my vacuum in the water world, that's my definition for now! Tell me if I'm wrong.

OK, I'm getting a little too serious for a blog. As light relief and as a poop engineer that loves things that put us a little off-balance, I'd like to offer the following as a definite highlight of my conference. At the project innovation awards I was honored to present the research of Professor Hans Van Leeuwen at Iowa State university who have done some cool applied research to convert waste corn stillage into an animal feed product (add link). In the session in which I gave a presentation of Prof Van Leeuwen's work, under the category of public communication I saw a presentation from Oslo that warms this Poop engineer's heart. Please be upstanding for the Poop Bus...


Friday, August 31, 2012

In praise of LCA thinking

I heartily commend to all environmental engineers (including fellow auspicious poop engineers!) the subject of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), for several reasons:

  1. It makes you think holistically. It's easy to be miopically focused on one environmental impact - hypoxia, eutrophication, carbon footprint, acid rain, etc. - but an LCA makes you consider all potential impacts. I offer the crass example of focusing solely on carbon footprint for wastewater treatment... the lowest CF for sewage treatment is no treatment and just let the sewage go into the river, lake or estuary! Of course this causes untold environmental and health impacts.
  2. It makes you think globally. It's easy to look at your own litte corner of a village, town, city, state, or country, but, in our global economy an LCA expands your considerations to a global perspective. In a recent LCA we did, for example, we considered the impact of using methanol. In digging into the data we discovered that our methanol came from Trinidad who are using their significant natural gas reserves to produce higher value products such as methanol. Who'd have thought?!
  3. It makes you think systematically. Your treatment plant is one cog in a huge anthropogenic and environmental system. An LCA makes you think about wider environmental impacts and maybe the solution to reducing environmental impacts lies outside of the boundaries of your own system. In wastewater the example I like is that water conservation (i.e. using less water in your home and in industries) has a significant impact on the quantity of wastewater that has to be treated, but also reduces the energy needed to pump it, the pipes needed to convey it and the energy used in a home to heat it... the chemicals needed to treat it, the water stress from abstracting it, the land needed to dam it and use it... shall I go on? But wait, I'm just a poop engineer looking at the wastewater end right? Hmm. Thinking.
  4. It makes you think about sources. In a very recent project we did an LCA that included glycerine use. Our glycerine is sourced as a byproduct of soy bean processing for biofuels. Inadvertently we put glycerine sourced from Brazil in our model and it showed a very high carbon footprint due to land clearance in the Amazon. Bad. Oh wait, our byproduct is actually from the US where we don't need to clear rainforest to produce soy beans. We selected the US beans and now we have a net carbon reduction due to carbon sequestration for this part of the model. I guess "buy local" is the key! (Unless you live in Brazil... think about it!)
  5. It makes you think. Environmental science and engineering are fascinating and complex issues. LCA makes me stop and think. I was trained as a chemical engineer and throughout my career I've been a process modeler which means I have an appreciation for mass and energy balances. LCA has several definitions, but it's basically the mother of all mass and energy balances! Sure it's imperfect and in many areas it uses crude approximations, but hey, it makes you think, holistically, globally and systematically!
So, to all my fellow environmental engineers, I heartily encourage you to get into LCA. We use SimaPro, which is great, but there are several decent software packages out there to help you including a free one.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Conference season in Twitterland

In the next few weeks there are several conferences with wastewater foci and I'm planning to be at a couple of them. First up will be the International Water Association world water congress in Busan. Wait a minute! Did I just see they have an iPad app for the conference? Plus they have a Facebook site (of course), a LinkedIn group and their own hash tag, #iwa2012busan for Twitter! Wow, technology comes to conferences in a big way! Of course, being the geek that I am I must try them out!
Last year we tried using twitter for Q&A at the IWA/WEF Nutrient conference (#nr2011 if you're interested) with the intent that younger water professionals might feel less intimidated and submit their questions during the Q&A. In that respect it was a bit of a failure as the usual senior folks dominated the tweets as much as they liked to hog the mike during the verbal Q&A. What it turned into was more of a set of side conversations, which was OK and added a new dimension to the conference reminiscent of the days when conferences had more heated discussions and back and forth dialogue.

We tried a similar thing for #wwtmod2012 which worked OK but the folks hogging the mike stuck more with their traditional mike-hogging at that conference and didn't contribute as much to the twittering!

In 2011 and again in 2012 WEFTEC will be tweeting away on #WEFTEC. If last year is anything to go by it will mostly be used by vendors encouraging people to look at their stands and a few folks tweeting comments on the technical sessions. That's cool I suppose.

It will be interesting to see how these conferences make use of Twitter and other social media and how the attendees take to them.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Would a poop plant by any other name smell so sweet?

In our industry we're shifting how we look at wastewater treatment.  In fact to even say "wastewater treatment" may soon be a thing of the past.  The shift is to stop looking at "used water" as a waste product to dispose safely, and start to look at it as an opportunity to recover valuable resources.  Our used waters contain... water (yup, tricky one that), nutrients (particularly phosphorus), heat and organics.  Let's see what we can do to recover these resources.

So maybe me using "poop engineer" for my blog title wasn't such a smart idea?  But, hey, that's what I am and whatever you call it, it's a sweet topic to consider how we can take something with a negative image and turn it around to a positive!

Andrew Shaw: Week in the life of a poop engineer

Another previous post from my general blog... (gearing up to start the Poop Engineer Blog for real!)

Andrew Shaw: Week in the life of a poop engineer: This week was particularly varied so I thought it might be interesting to share it on my blog. So here goes (If I can remember because it ha...

Andrew Shaw: Wastewater Treatment Blog?

Andrew Shaw: Wastewater Treatment Blog?:  As I dip my toes into blogging, I've been considering the idea of starting a series of blogs specifically on wastewater treatment, possibly...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Watch this space!

Well, I set up the blog space, so now I just need to get on with it!