CH2M HILL Wastewater Infrastructure Team leader Dr. Julian Sandino presents a vision for the wastewater industry’s future and the benefit of water resource recovery facilities.

By: Dr. Julian Sandino, CH2M HILL’s Vice President, Wastewater Infrastructure Team Leader, and Technology Senior Fellow, IWA and WEF Fellow

Dr. Julian Sandino recently visited the WEF headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia to present on what the future holds in regards to a changing paradigm in the wastewater industry. Read this article for a full recap of Julian’s presentation.

Over the years, wastewater treatment has evolved as new processes and technologies have come to market, and in the future, treatment processes will continue to adapt and change to meet stricter regulations and public demands. Looking back to the 1800s, society handled wastewater by considering the public health concerns—transporting and discharging waste as a way to avoid disease and infection. In the late 1920s, society shifted to handling wastewater by focusing on controlling pollution in waterways. Today, with modern technologies and population growth, our mindset and the way we think about waste has fundamentally changed, and we are now considering water reuse and reclaiming resources to convert waste into a useful by-product.

Historically, the wastewater industry has been driven by regulations and as regulations become even stricter in the coming years, the way society deals with wastewater will inevitably continue to change and evolve. In addition to regulations, people are beginning to understand the principles of water reuse and resource recovery and the benefits that come along with this approach to handling wastewater.

However, the reality is, we are already addressing the future of wastewater treatment and resource recovery. Technology is being implemented enabling wastewater management to be carbon neutral and energy self-sufficient and at times, even energy producing. Water resource recovery facilities exist and have the ability to recover a variety of resources, such as liquid, nutrients, carbon, energy, and heat, embedded in wastewater. As more of these facilities are built and technologies continue to advance over time, water resource recovery facilities are getting more complex and now have the ability to extract energy found in biosolids, as well as generate hydropower or capture thermal energy. When dealing with biosolids, large resource recovery facilities primarily rely on cogeneration systems using anaerobic digestion to generate biogas; and furthermore, some facilities are now utilizing thermal hydrolysis to pretreat sludge, increasing biogas production, and improving biosolids dewaterability, thus reducing offsite transportation/reuse costs. By adding fats, oils, and grease (collected from restaurants and other commercial sources) to the mix, facilities are now able to generate more biogas and help dispose of problematic waste.

In addition to generating biogas, nutrient recovery is now becoming  another benefit of a resource recovery approach towards wastewater management. Phosphorus, a finite resource, often appears in the form of struvite which has been known to block pipes and cause operational and maintenance problems in sludge processing facilities; however, we are becoming more efficient at  precipitating struvite in a control manner and thus facilitating its beneficial use.

While the water industry is sure to continue changing in the future, it’s critical that it further embraces the nascent paradigm of resource recovery, leaving behind the much restrictive focus of pollution control.

With more than 26 years of experience, Dr. Julian Sandino is an expert in the evaluation and process design of wastewater treatment facilities including both liquid and solids treatment trains, as well as in the definition of biosolids management reuse/disposal solutions. He is also an expert in the area of management of wet-weather flows in treatment facilities. He has led and assisted in several applied research projects related to optimizing wastewater treatment in terms of performance and energy requirements. His projects have included the definition of appropriate wastewater management solutions in locations with a wide range of different technical, economical, environmental and social requirements such as New York, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Los Angeles, Sao Paolo, Boston, Bogota, San Diego, Mexico City, Miami, Santiago, Chicago, and Buenos Aires. He also serves as an advisor and special consultant to the World Bank in the areas of Water and Sanitation.