What is the Carbon Footprint of a WWTP?

The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Amidst the climate crisis plaguing our modern age, this is an important law to consider, especially as it pertains to the concept of a carbon footprint. It boils down to who’s responsible for storing energy vs. expending it. And in the case of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), there’s a massive carbon footprint that’s due largely to substantial energy expenditures.

Although the headline of this article asks what the carbon footprint of a WWTP is, it might be more poignant to pose a different question: “What if 50% of WWTPs reduced their energy consumption by 60%?” In the context of carbon footprints, such a reduction would mark a considerable step forward in the fight against climate change. But how?

The energy profile of a traditional WWTP

The first step in any discussion about reducing WWTP energy consumption is to examine the energy profile of a typical plant. We have that data, but — sadly— it’s not pretty. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2018 Energy Data Management Manual for the Wastewater Treatment Sector:

  • WWTPs in the U.S. consume more than 30 terawatt hours per year of electricity.
  • Energy costs are $2 billion, and a majority of it comes from fossil fuel-powered plants.
  • Electricity alone can constitute 25% to 40% of a WWTP’s annual operating budget.

These figures are staggering and, in light of conservation efforts, rather bleak. Nevertheless, there are numerous opportunities to reduce energy costs by reevaluating the energy spend of traditional WWTPs.

The Department of Energy’s report even outlines “success stories” of several plants that reduced energy spend by as much as 50%, albeit through massive CAPEX that offers only temporary efficiency benefits until the plant’s operational demands catch up to the capacity of mechanical improvements. In the end, the outlook for these types of investments is minimal.

Energy demand is a product of operational output

In understanding the energy demands for WWTPs, it’s vital to observe how they operate: specifically, all the equipment drawing power to process wastewater into clean, safe, usable outflow. Aeration and mixing systems, separators and clarifiers, evaporation and distillation equipment, and more all require tremendous power to function — consumption that increases as WWTP capacity is stressed with higher demand.

This is to say that reducing the power demands of a WWTP comes down to addressing how it processes wastewater. Simply upgrading mechanical systems doesn’t necessarily reduce the energy demands of the plants themselves — although modern equipment may run more efficiently than legacy systems. Instead, it takes a fundamental rethinking of how we treat wastewater.

The answer is a microbiological solution that’s capable of reducing the energy demands of WWTPs by reducing the need for mechanical intervention during wastewater processing.

A natural path to a smaller carbon footprint

EnBiorganic Technologies’ EBS-Di is a microbiological solution leveraging a proprietary consortium of bacteria that’s more effective at reducing the energy demands of WWTPs than any CAPEX investment in equipment. When the EBS-Di is used, it can reduce WWTP energy consumption by as much as 65%. It also reduces the carbon footprint of the plant through more efficient processing of greenhouse gas emissions.

There are cascading environmental benefits that start at the microbial level. More efficient water treatment using the EBS-Di leads to an improved ability to process wastewater. That improved ability reduces the need for mechanical intervention. Reduced mechanical demands lead to reduced energy consumption, which in turn means fewer greenhouse emissions.

To contextualize the power of a natural, microbial-level solution, let’s return to the original question. What if 50% of WWTPs reduced their energy consumption by 60%? It could mean nearly 9 terawatt hours fewer each year, equating to a cost savings of $600 million — and literally millions of tons of greenhouse gasses conserved. It adds up to a WWTP carbon footprint significantly more aligned with the conservation and sustainability efforts that are top-of-mind today.

Environmental concerns are paramount

Stressed with today’s wastewater processing demands, the traditional mechanical model of a WWTP simply isn’t efficient. The carbon footprint of these plants is growing, and no amount of CAPEX improvements will bring it down. The time has come to pivot toward a microbiological approach — one that’s not only more efficient in terms of operation, but also friendlier toward the environment.

Learn more about microbiology’s ability to reduce the carbon footprint of WWTPs at enbiorganic.com.

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