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STIS: Disruptive Technology for Wastewater Solutions


A high-level panel at last week's Singapore International Water Wweek (SIWW) Technology and Innovation Summit (STIS) in Singapore, moderated by Black & Veatch Water Business President Cindy Wallis-Lage, looked at wastewater solutions around four innovation drivers: water treatment, resource recovery, resilience, and water quality.

Conference participants were asked to select which of the solutions presented were most important in each of these areas, and panelists then provided insights on their preferred solutions.

Water Treatment

For water treatment, participants voted operating costs and aging plants as most important.

BEWG International Managing Director Zhang Zhenpeng said conventional solutions do not seem effective at reducing operating costs. One new solution his firm is working on is to install hardware and software to control energy consumption; another is to set up six regional control centers across China that he hopes will reduce operating costs by shifting maintenance from plant-based to regional center-based solutions.

According to Coca-Cola Director of Sustainability Paul Bowen, the most exciting new technology was microbial fuel cells.

“Recovering energy from the treatment process is what we’re trying to look at,” he said. While Coca-Cola wants to provide energy for treatment, the biggest hurdle is scalability. “The ability to create energy from organics is a new frontier. We hope sustainable resource recovery facilities move to the next level of sustainable operations,” said Bowen.

Taking a different tack, DC Water Innovations Chief Sudhir Murthy said ceramic membrane bioreactors (MBRs) are most exciting.

Granular sludge provides three things, he said: It meets stringent limits, enables intensification that extends the life of the facility, and uses fewer resources.

“The opportunities of doing all three are immense with granular sludge,” he said.  

Resource Recovery

Participants agreed that the most valuable resources they recover from wastewater are water and energy, and the most promising technologies for resource recovery are energy recovery and forward osmosis or separation processes. 

South Africa Water Research Committee Executive Manager Jay Bhagwan said that rather than forcing developing countries into huge flushing sewer systems, which use more energy an resources and put them in a cycle of greater poverty, there is a tremendous opportunity for getting people to invest in innovation that can take them off the grid by capturing resources at source.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is among those who have invested in the first thinking around how to deal with feces at sources, he noted.

“It is going to eliminate the need for flushing, for wastewater treatment, reclamation,” said Bhagwan. “You’ll take away the need for 30 percent or 40 percent of the water you’ve been flushing away.”


The key to improved resilience is integrated water management, according to session participants, and integrated systems modelling is the information technology area that offers the greatest potential.

Integrated system modelling can drive efficiency and optimize existing treatment, said Australian Water Recycling Center of Excellence CEO Mark O’Donohue. It can also help design better treatment processes. One recent project his firm has been working is to borrow software from the oil and gas industry, and bring  its thinking on resilience and repair into a water treatment plant.

“We collated a range of data on 139 key criteria and control points,” he said. “There were substantive improvements we could generate from modelling.”  

Another participant observed that the real innovation is in combining technologies and in the intelligent way organizations combine physical, chemical and biological processes.   

Water Quality

The most important water quality issues in the near future will be trace organics and reuse quality, session participants agreed.

Coca-Cola especially is interested in quality of reuse, Bowen said. “Trace organics is a real issue that we focus on -- pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals. When we look at environmental protection and the quality of the water we put back in versus reuse, sometimes they are at opposite ends.”

The company is looking carefully at what technologies it can put in place to get the best quality of water for its intended use after treatment.

Participants were nearly equally split on whether organizations should focus time and effort on advanced oxidation processes, membrane technology, biological processes or source control for removing trace organics.

Bhagwan said source control will become essential, as “going forward it’s going to become difficult if you intend to recover downstream. The idea is that if we want to be sustainable, you have to deal with it upstream.”

O’Donohue added that biological processes offer the greatest opportunity for a jump step. “History demonstrates that biology has made one of the biggest changes,” he said. “In the next five or 10 years, the real advances will come from biological processes.”

The Most Disruptive Technologies

At the concludion of the session, participants were asked to decide on which of more than 20 technologies discussed were high-, medium- or low-priority, and also on which would be disruptive or low-hanging fruit.

The three that are most likely to be high priority and disruptive, they determined, are decentralized treatment technologies, source separation and point-of-use reuse.

“We have a lot of focus on the incremental,” Wallis-Lage said, and “disruptive is hard for us. The benefit is we finally started to prioritize.”

The STIS, which ran from June from June 16-17, included over 250 delegates from around the world. Dialogues started at the Summit will be continued at Singapore International Water Week 2016 from July 10-14, 2016.