By Dr. Samuel Jeyanayagam

Population growth, rapid urbanization, and linear resource consumption are causing a range of global and regional pressures including climate change, rising energy demand, and resource depletion. Consequently the carrying capacity of the planet is being compromised. Historically, carbon (organic matter) in wastewater has been considered a pollutant and treatment plants expend significant energy to oxidize it to harmless by-products, carbon dioxide and water. Continuing this practice is not sustainable. In order to cope with the practical realities of the 21st century and beyond, a truly cyclic economy must be established. Disruptive and game-changing approaches are needed to allow today’s wastewater treatment plant to evolve as a water resource recovery facility (WRRF) of the future. In a carbon and energy constrained world, managing the available carbon takes central stage. Carbon is not a pollutant that must be eliminated but a resource that can be recovered.

During a workshop I am participating at WEFTEC on Saturday, we will explore the many uses of carbon at a WRRF including production of energy, volatile fatty acids for nutrient removal, and marketable chemicals. Clearly, WRRFs will have a range of carbon management strategies at their disposal. While multiple routes and destinations will be available, the utility’s vision, short and long-term goals, and other site specific conditions will determine the specific path forward. The overarching objective of the workshop is to shed light on the next generation carbon management strategies, technology status, and transforming today’s wastewater treatment facility as bio-refinery of the future.

Dr. Samuel Jeyanayagam is a CH2M vice president and senior principal technologist and has been an active member in WEF for more than 30 years. Dr. Jeyanayagam has co-authored more than 26 WEF publications and written and presented more than 180 papers. As Task Force Chair, he led a group of industry leaders in the development of the recent Nutrient Roadmap. He also serves on the editorial board of the Water Environment Research and Water Environment & Technology journals.