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New system makes water treatment a much greener process

Scientists are always looking for new and improved ways to make industry practices greener, and industry executives feel the same way about making these practices more affordable. Luckily for both groups, a team of international scientists led by the University of Exeter have found a new innovative way to incorporate ecological processes to allow “green” water treatment facilities – and save money in the process.

This new technique is based around creating a unique water system that utilizes both artificial and natural systems within the treatment pipeline. This groundbreaking innovation could transform potentially harmful elements such as carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen from wastewater into renewable energy and materials.

The scientists’ system is called REPURE, and could possible revolutionize wastewater systems used in agriculture and energy production. Their results are published in the journal Science Advances.

Existing design schemes for wastewater systems focus merely on the technologies. If the system design could benefit from the abilities of nature, it could ensure infrastructure development within ecological constraints and could maximize other benefits,” says Xu Wang, a professor at Exeter University and coauthor on the paper. “Therefore, our REPURE design includes the carbon capture and nutrient retention services provided by soils, as they were found to help reduce adverse environmental effects during the land use of the biosolids and reclaimed water. More importantly, this new design can be promoted in many places, as soil is a major component of the planet and exists in nearly every country.”

More sustainable wastewater treatment methods are in dire need throughout the world, as populations increase and thus pressure on wastewater facilities increase as well. Pollutant removal from water takes a large amount of energy – about 3.4 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S. alone, enough to make it the third largest energy consumer in the country. Additionally, it’s possible that roughly 20 percent of the global demand for phosphate could be assuaged by recovering phosphorus from waste.

The researchers state that this REPURE design would make it so wastewater can be treated without the need for any energy, and greatly reduce the carbon footprint of these systems.

Restoring and improving harmony between human activities and nature is essential to human well-being and survival, and the role of wastewater infrastructure is evolving towards resource recovery to address this challenge,” says David Butler, professor at University of Exeter and a co-author on the paper. “This integrative study advances our understanding and approaches of how to regain the balance between satisfying human demands and maintaining ecosystems.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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