The Strasbourg Wastewater Treatment Plant, where biomethane is produced and injected into the natural gas network.

Across the world, biomethane (refined biogas) is used to power cars, towns, cities and industry. In Australia, the creation of renewable energy through biogas recovery is in many ways still in its infancy. Mark Lautre, General Manager of Operations at SUEZ in Australia & New Zealand, argues that 2016 is the year that the wastewater treatment plant needs to be seen as a resource.

A recent study by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences & Engineering said that wastewater is largely an untapped resource in Australia. Untapped resources embedded in wastewater represent significant economic potential, with a present value of more than $5billion*.

The report found that once a treatment plant reaches typical mid-range size, the generation of biogas from sewage and waste and cogeneration of electricity becomes financially viable. Anaerobic co-digestion, high rate aerobic treatment and low energy mainline anaerobic treatment methods are among the favourable options touted.

In Australia, there has been preliminary success in anaerobic co-digestion, the practice of introducing additional organic waste streams to the traditional anaerobic digestion process. An investment in co-digestion can deliver operational and maintenance savings with the potential for a new revenue stream from received organic wastes.

SUEZ and its joint-venture partner, Broadspectrum, in collaboration with SA Water, operates and maintains the water and wastewater services in metropolitan Adelaide.

Following a successful research program in 2010, a fully automated co-digestion plant was commissioned at the Glenelg Wastewater Treatment Plant in July 2013. The plant now receives industrial liquid waste such as sugars, alcohols and other organic rich wastes that provide a boost to the site’s anaerobic digesters.

In the first 2.5 years of operation, the co-digestion plant at Glenelg received 22.5ML of liquid waste products which produced an extra 1,790MW of energy. This makes the Glenelg plant a bigger source of renewable energy than any single solar installation in South Australia. The generation of renewable energy has reduced the plant’s reliance on natural gas and grid electricity, and reduced its carbon footprint by producing up to 84 per cent of the power required on-site.

On a global scale, technology is further advanced. Biogas is transformed into biomethane, which is injected directly into natural gas networks or used as a vehicle fuel source. Since September 2015, SUEZ has demonstrated its renewable energy capability by assisting the Strasbourg Urban Community to become the first in France to inject biomethane produced from a local wastewater treatment plant into its natural gas network. In collaboration with the local distributor of natural gas, more than 1.6 million cubic metres of biomethane will be produced from wastewater each year. This provides a local, sustainable and low-carbon source of renewable energy.

SUEZ has been expanding the boundaries of biogas recovery, including opening a dedicated biosolids methanisation laboratory, with more than $15million invested in research and development in the last eight years in this area alone. The opportunity for Australia and New Zealand is to now realise some of the $5billion potential in our wastewater.

*Wastewater – An untapped resource? (2015) Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

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Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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