From wastewater treatment to water resource recovery: Environmental and economic impacts of full-scale implementation

Maria Faragò*, Anders Damgaard, Jeanette Agertved Madsen, Jacob Kragh Andersen, Dines Thornberg, Mikkel Holmen Andersen, Martin Rygaard

*Corresponding author for this work

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To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote resource recovery, many wastewater treatment operators are retrofitting existing plants to implement new technologies for energy, nutrient and carbon recovery.

In literature, there is a lack of studies that can unfold the potential environmental and economic impacts of the transition that wastewater utilities are undertaking to transform their treatment plants to water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs). When existing, literature studies are mostly based on simulations rather than real plant data and pilot-scale results. This study combines life cycle assessment and economic evaluations to quantify the environmental and economic impacts of retrofitting an existing wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), which already implements energy recovery, into a full-scale WRRF with a series of novel technologies, the majority of which are already implemented full-scale or tested through pilot-scales. We evaluate five technology alternatives against the current performance of the WWTP: real-time N2O control, biological biogas upgrading coupled with power-to-hydrogen, phosphorous recovery, pre-filtration carbon harvest and enhanced nitrogen removal. Our results show that real-time N2O control, biological biogas upgrading and pre-filtration lead to a decrease in climate change and fossil resource depletion impacts. The implementation of the real-time measurement and control of N2O achieved the highest reduction in direct CO2-eq emissions (-35%), with no significant impacts in other environmental categories. Biological biogas upgrading contributed to counterbalancing direct and indirect climate change impacts by substituting natural gas consumption and production. Pre-filtration increased climate change reduction by 13%, while it increased impacts in other categories. Enhanced sidestream nitrogen removal increased climate change impacts by 12%, but decreased marine eutrophication impacts by 14%. The reserve base resource depletion impacts, however, were the highest in the plant configurations implementing biological biogas upgrading coupled with power-to-hydrogen. Environmental improvements generated economic costs for all alternatives except for real-time N2O control. The results expose possible environmental and economic trade-offs and hotspots of the journey that large wastewater treatment plants will undertake in transitioning into resource recovery facilities in the coming years.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117554
JournalWater Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Pollution control
  • Nutrients recovery
  • Biomethane
  • Added value
  • Abatement costs


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