Rethinking WASTEwater and enjoying a beer

Declan Maguire, Managing Director, Celtic Anglian Water

June 2021

Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit back in the sun this weekend sipping a beer or savouring a glass of wine with some friends and say look at what I’m doing for our environment.

Well good news, you can!!!!

Our food and beverage manufacturers in the UK are leading the way in genuinely rethinking the way they deliver our much-loved pleasures in a more sustainable and carbon efficient manner. In fact, we can also be quite positive about the overall picture for the UK, as over the last thirty years we have grown our economy by over 70% whilst reducing our total greenhouse emissions by almost 50%.

UK Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy – 2020 UK Provisional Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Industry in the UK, and most particularly the food and drink sector, have been at the forefront leading the way to decarbonising industry by 2050. The Industrial Roadmaps Project, a collaboration between government and industry, has developed specific plans for each industry sector to address the threats and take advantage of the opportunities, to enable the UK to lead the world in being a truly low carbon economy.

The Roadmaps consider specific technological solutions such as industrial heat recovery and fuel switching, and also wider themes such as innovation, skills development and investment which are all key pillars of the Industrial Strategy plans.

Over the past thirty years we have all been looking inwards at how we can reduce waste, do things more efficiently, and reduce the overall impact of our business activies on our environment. We now have an opportunity to look outwards to deliver the next steps, examine what other are countries doing and most particularly what are other sectors are doing to reduce the impact of their activities on the environment.

The Water Sector in the UK has committed to an ambitious plan to be carbon zero by 2030 – that’s a 2.4m tonne a year reduction in carbon emitted, so they must be making some significant changes.

All industry, and particularly the food and beverage sector, generate wastewater and use clean water and there must be an opportunity to work together to transpose many of these innovations from the Water Sector to the wider industrial sector.

Historically, simple activated sludge systems were the mainstay of industrial wastewater treatment to remove sufficient levels of pollutants to avoid significant damage to water courses. Little thought was given to the demand for clean water or the potential value in the ‘waste’ sent out of our facilities. As our population increases and demand for food to serve our increasingly urban society reaches levels never before contemplated, the demand for water and energy to produce that food is going to be greater than ever.

The Water Sector has been exploring some of these innovative technologies for many years. These technologies have in some cases, and will in others, transfer into the wider industrial sector. Technologies such as anaerobic digestion, membrane technology’s and combined heat and power, have long transferred across to the industrial sectors and delivered significant dividends to both businesses and the environment.

Typical conventional waste water treatment process

Now it’s time to move to the next phase, to look to breakdown the wastewater into its constituent parts and derive the value inherently bound up within. We need to explore the possibility to precipitate valuable nutrients such as ammonia and phosphorous and supply them to other markets before we recycle our water for multiple passes through the production processes. We need to consider producing usable carbon dioxide from our biogas which is in such scarce supply on the world market as opposed to emitting it into the atmosphere in which it is contributing to the problem.

We also need to explore how we are reusing our biosolids, the valuable by-product of the water treatment process. We need to consider using this valuable commodity in producing a truly low carbon fuel for the latest in gasification plants and produce truly green electrical power from the syngas produced.

Lastly, we need to be able store the power we generate, we need to harness the potential in batteries, biomethane and even hydrogen to be able to use and potential energy we have at our disposal in a manner that suits our production needs.