Life cycle assessment as development and decision support tool for wastewater resource recovery technology

Linda L. Fang, Borja Valverde Perez, Anders Damgaard, Benedek G. Plósz, Martin Rygaard

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    Life cycle assessment (LCA) has been increasingly used in the field of wastewater treatment where the focus has been to identify environmental trade-offs of current technologies. In a novel approach, we use LCA to support early stage research and development of a biochemical system for wastewater resource recovery. The freshwater and nutrient content of wastewater are recognized as potential valuable resources that can be recovered for beneficial reuse. Both recovery and reuse are intended to address existing environmental concerns, for example, water scarcity and use of non-renewable phosphorus. However, the resource recovery may come at the cost of unintended environmental impacts. One promising recovery system, referred to as TRENS, consists of an enhanced biological phosphorus removal and recovery system (EBP2R) connected to a photobioreactor. Based on a simulation of a full-scale nutrient and water recovery system in its potential operating environment, we assess the potential environmental impacts of such a system using the EASETECH model. In the simulation, recovered water and nutrients are used in scenarios of agricultural irrigation-fertilization and aquifer recharge. In these scenarios, TRENS reduces global warming up to 15% and marine eutrophication impacts up to 9% compared to conventional treatment. This is due to the recovery and reuse of nutrient resources, primarily nitrogen. The key environmental concerns obtained through the LCA are linked to increased human toxicity impacts from the chosen end use of wastewater recovery products. The toxicity impacts are from both heavy metals release associated with land application of recovered nutrients and production of AlCl3, which is required for advanced wastewater treatment prior to aquifer recharge. Perturbation analysis of the LCA pinpointed nutrient substitution and heavy metals content of algae biofertilizer as critical areas for further research if the performance of nutrient recovery systems such as TRENS is to be better characterized. Our study provides valuable feedback to the TRENS developers and identifies the importance of system expansion to include impacts outside the immediate nutrient recovery system itself. The study also show for the first time the successful evaluation of urban-to-agricultural water systems in EASETECH.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalWater Research
    Pages (from-to)538-549
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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