Zero-energy sewage treatment wins industry award

30 Nov 2020
Queensland Australian Water Association Branch President Nicole Davis and Dr Shihu Hu

A University of Queensland project developing zero-energy sewage treatment has won a coveted industry research award.

The Research and Development Excellence Award was presented at the annual Australian Water Association Queensland Gala Dinner and Awards Night.

The winning project uses innovative Free Nitrous Acid patented biotechnology, which triples the bioenergy recovery from sewage, and decreases operational energy consumption at the treatment plant by 10-20%.

UQ’s Advanced Water Management Centre Director, Professor Zhiguo Yuan AM, said that with the FNA biotechnology, water utilities can lead the way in achieving energy-neutral process management.

“Our research will enable utilities to implement service delivery towards a circular economy,” said Prof Yuan.

“The bioenergy recovered in the form of biogas, is estimated to completely offset the energy consumption for sewage treatment, achieved by harnessing the energy contained within the treated waste.”

Through a dual-action mechanism, FNA establishes the nitrite pathway in wastewater treatment and boosts sludge digestibility, resulting in energy and carbon efficient nitrogen removal combined with increased biogas recovery.

Strongly supported by the state government through the Advance Queensland scheme, this demonstration project paves the way for full-scale implementation of the FNA biotechnology.

“This biotechnology requires minor retrofitting of existing treatment plants, with an estimated payback time of just 3-5 years,” said Prof Yuan.

“Combined with cost savings up to $2.8M pa for plants treating 150ML/d, this could avoid the use of roughly 61,000 tonnes of black coal every year.”

An exemplar of technology demonstration and adoption through collaborative research and industry partnership, this project leads a revolutionary change in sewage treatment and management based on ground-breaking science.

Professor Yuan said the centre collaborated closely with industry and research partners, including Urban Utilities, City of Gold Coast, South Australia Water Corporation, Water Corporation of Western Australia, Wide Bay Water Corporation, Southern Cross University, University of Technology Sydney and Queensland Government, ensuring the relevance and impact of research outcomes.

“This award is recognition of the power of collaborative research,” Professor Yuan said.

The Australian Water Association’s Research and Development Excellence Award recognises projects that challenge current practice and address the need for a sustainable future. The outcomes of the project must demonstrably add to the conservation or better use of water resources, knowledge of water technology, environment, sociology, economics or cultural aspects.