Dr. Glen Daigger talks about resource recovery and the useful products that can be extracted from the water cycle. While current and emerging technologies have made product recovery possible, the true value comes from market demand.

By Dr. Glen Daigger, International Water Association President and CH2M HILL Senior Vice President and Chief Water Technology Officer

Resource recovery is a hot topic. Recently, the International Water Association (IWA) has been having several discussions on the topic as it considers what roles it can and should play to advance resource recovery from the water cycle.

As many of you know, numerous opportunities exist to extract useful products from the water cycle, including: water, energy, nutrients, and other materials.  In fact, humans have been doing so for millennia when one considers that human waste has been used as fertilizer in agriculture since ancient times—take for example, China.  Water is recovered for use in numerous instances, including both directly and after discharge to the environment.  Biogas produced through various treatment processes have been collected and used for electricity and heat production for more than a century.

Certainly new technologies are becoming available to further enable product recovery, including intentional struvite precipitation and heat recovery using heat exchangers and heat pumps. But, is technology, by itself, the constraint? Recent thoughts suggest that the answer to this question is no!

To be valuable, a market must exist for the recovered product. The product must be of the proper quality to meet the needs of those who would purchase it, and it must be available in sufficient quantities and at the right times. There must not only be a supply of the product but also a demand for it. Our profession has learned this when considering and implementing water reclamation and use, as well as biosolids reuse, and must apply these lessons more broadly and to other potentially recoverable products.

It is not enough to simply produce a product – we must produce a product that someone else wants. In other words, we must develop and appropriately structure markets for the products we are able to and want to produce—an interesting thought and one that the IWA will be pursing in the coming months.

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