Waste Management Review speaks with Veolia about the company’s research and development activities and what the future holds for wastewater innovation.
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, water has been a critical symbol of the climate crisis Australia is facing.
Extremes of severe drought and flooding have been experienced across the country, and wastewater is becoming an ever more important resource.
This is both for the value embodied in purified recycled water, either for drinking or non-drinking purposes, as well as useful organics and nutrient sources available in wastewaters.
Long-term security of water, our most valued resource, needs long-term vision and solutions which are flexible, scalable and innovative; and able to meet the needs of today, while creating a future where there is no such thing as wasted water.
In 2008, the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme (WCRWS), a $2.5 billion infrastructure investment by the Queensland Government, aimed to future-proof water within South-East Queensland, which at the time was 60 per cent drought declared.
As the operations and maintenance partner for the Scheme, Veolia oversees more than 200 kilometres of large diameter pipelines, three advanced treatment plants, eleven storage tanks and nine pumping stations.
The Scheme remains one of the largest of its kind in the world and exemplifies that infrastructure investment, in tandem with behavioural change, is essential to ensuring the resilience and security of water supply.
Kathy Northcott, Veolia Research and Development Manager, cites the WCRWS as one of the leading examples of innovative planning to reimagine the potential of wastewater.
“At full operation, the advanced water treatment plants within WCRWS can produce about 180 million litres a day, equivalent to 20 per cent of current demand,” Northcott says.
“The importance of future infrastructure design and development will be how assets can provide both current water and future energy security needs.”
In order for Australia to manage the fluctuations of increasing climate volatility, while deriving maximum value from an asset, Northcott says we need to look at options for adaptation.
“This could, for example, include repurposing existing water recycling infrastructure to balance society’s needs for secure water sources, with our need for clean, green energy, such as highly purified recycled water for hydrogen fuel production.”
Northcott, a chartered chemical engineer with over 24 years industry experience, explains that the global wastewater treatment industry is rapidly evolving, with environmental concerns such as emerging contaminants, climate change and digital innovation driving ongoing development.
She points to Sydney’s Barangaroo district, where Veolia operates and maintains one of Australia’s largest energy, cooling and water treatment schemes.
The Barangaroo project includes electricity and cooling networks and a water treatment and recycling plant.
Veolia’s system makes it possible to recycle the 500,000 litres of drinking water used daily in the district.
Northcott also highlights Veolia’s research and development in data-driven predictive maintenance.
“Digital innovation is allowing us to develop artificial intelligence to assist our clients to determine where we should put our efforts to prevent sewer and water network breaks and blockages and foster proactive renewal programs,” she says.
“It’s about understanding which parts of the water network should be replaced to prevent pipe failures and doing the most we possibly can to maintain our client’s sewer and drinking water systems.”
Arran Canning, Veolia Strategy and Growth Director – Water, adds that the progressive rollout of 5G networks will inform future wastewater opportunities – opening up Veolia’s potential to offer cost effective, world-class solutions to remote and regional operations.
“5G will provide significant potential in remote monitoring and management. These new systems will be data-driven and require less onsite manpower because we can install sensors on everything,” he says.
Like Northcott, Canning has extensive experience working in the utilities industry, holding executive roles with Water Futures and Seqwater, before stepping into his current position at Veolia in January.
Canning recently travelled to the University of Sunshine Coast, where he visited Veolia’s solar-powered water battery facility.
The thermal energy storage tank keeps the entire university campus cool, and in its first year of operations has saved more than 4232 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Canning explains that Veolia runs a program called BOOST to facilitate collaborative relationships with its clients – with both parties working together on innovative projects and technological advancement.
“We talk with our clients about targeted solutions to their challenges, be it technology, asset management or digital innovation,” he says.
“It’s about making sure we’re providing the best value for our existing contracts, while also looking at new opportunities and what we can offer.”
Looking forward, Canning predicts further emphasis to be placed on energy production at wastewater facilities.
“I think the future of wastewater will see more hydrogen production, biorefineries and really creating hubs around treatment facilities,” he says.
“The advantage that Veolia has is we manage solid waste as well, so we can bring other waste from the community into those bioreactors to either 100 per cent energy offset the facility or provide energy back into the grid,” he says.
Northcott expresses similar sentiments, adding that wastewater treatment facilities could be co-located with agricultural activities.
She explains that as wastewater possesses significant organic carbon and nutrient value, water, biosolids and nutrients could be recovered to be utilised in horticulture and aquaculture enterprises.
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