Environmental sustainability of an energy self-sufficient sewage treatment plant : Improvements through DEMON and co-digestionEnvironmental sustainability of an energy self-sufficient sewage treatment plant : Improvements through DEMON and co-digestion
Faculty of Sciences. Bioscience Engineering
Research group
Sustainable Energy, Air and Water Technology
Publication type
Engineering sciences. Technology
Source (journal)
Water research / International Association on Water Pollution Research. - Oxford, 1967, currens
74(2015), p. 166-179
Target language
English (eng)
Full text (Publishers DOI)
It is still not proven that treatment of sewage in a wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) is (in every case) environmentally friendly. To address this matter, we have applied a state-of-the-art life cycle assessment (LCA) to an energy self-sufficient WWTP in Strass (Austria), its supply chain and the valorization of its products: produced electricity out of biogas from sludge digestion and the associated stabilized digestate, applied as agricultural fertilizer. Prominent aspects of our study are: a holistic environmental impact assessment, measurement of greenhouse gas emissions (including N2O), and accounting for infrastructure, replacement of conventional fertilizers and toxicity of metals present in the stabilized digestate. Additionally, the environmental sustainability improvement by implementing one-stage partial nitritation/anammox (e.g. DEMON®) and co-digestion was also assessed. DEMON on the digesters reject water leads to a considerable saving of natural resources compared to nitritiation/denitritation (about 33% of the life cycle resource input), this through the lowering of sludge consumption for N-removal, and thus increasing electricity production via a higher sludge excess. However, its N2O emission could be restrained through further optimization as it represents a large share (3066%) of the plants' damaging effect on human health, this through climate change. The co-substrate addition to the digester resulted in no significant improvement of the digestion process but induced net electricity generation. If respective amounts of conventional fertilizers are replaced, the land application of the stabilized digestate is environmentally friendly through prevention of natural resource consumption and diversity loss, but possibly not regarding human health impact due the presence of toxic heavy metals, mainly Zn, in the digestate. The outcomes show that the complete life cycle results in a prevention of resource extraction from nature and a potential mitigation of diversity loss (though for some impact categories no quantification of associated diversity loss is possible) but it also leads to a damaging effect on human health, mainly via climate change and heavy metal toxicity. Since it is for now impossible to aggregate the impact to these different aspects in a sound manner, it is not yet possible to consider in this case the studied system as environmentally friendly. Generally, the field of LCA needs further development to present a better and single outcome.