Many practical design and operating decisions on wastewater treatment plants can have significant impacts on the overall environmental performance, in particular the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The main factor in this regard is the use of aerobic or anaerobic treatment technology. This paper compares the GHG production of a number of case studies with aerobic or anaerobic main and sludge treatment of domestic wastewater and also looks at the energy balances and economics. This comparison demonstrates that major advantages can be gained by using primarily anaerobic processes as it is possible to largely eliminate any net energy input to the process, and therefore the production of GHG from fossil fuels. This is achieved by converting the energy of the incoming wastewater pollutants to methane which is then used to generate electricity. This is sufficient to power the aerobic processes as well as the mixing etc. of the anaerobic stages. In terms of GHG production, the total output (in CO2 equivalents) can be reduced from 2.4 kg CO2/kg CODremoved for fully aerobic treatment to 1.0 kg CO2/kg CODremoved for primarily anaerobic processes. All of the CO2 produced in the anaerobic processes comes from the wastewater pollutants and is therefore greenhouse gas neutral, whereas up to 1.4 kg CO2/kg CODremoved originates from power generation for the fully aerobic process. This means that considerably more CO2 is produced in power generation than in the actual treatment process, and all of this is typically from fossil fuels, whereas the energy from the wastewater pollutants comes primarily from renewable energy sources, namely agricultural products. Even a change from anaerobic to aerobic sludge treatment processes (for the same aerobic main process) has a massive impact on the CO2 production from fossil fuels. An additional 0.8 kg CO2/kg CODremoved is produced by changing to aerobic sludge digestion, which equates for a typical 100,000 EP plant to an additional production of over 10 t CO2 per day. Preliminary cost estimates confirm that the largely anaerobic process option is a fully competitive alternative to the mainly aerobic processes used, while achieving the same effluent quality.

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