Unique new research won’t waste wastewater

By Colin Minor

A unique wastewater treatment facility will help researchers understand the effects of emerging compounds of concern through full-scale experiments in 12 controlled stream environments.

“As far as I know there are no other groups trying to replicate what we are doing here, as far as I know it is the first in the world,” said project lead Dr. Leland Jackson.

The Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets facility will allow university researchers to conduct wastewater experiments on realistic stream environments. Currently, most wastewater research is carried out through scaled-down laboratory experiments.

These experiments face problems when the results are scaled from lab conditions of one, 10 or 20 liters, up to a million liters said Jackson.

“Industry is really reluctant to go from one liter to a million liters in one step, because often things don’t scale that way.”

Jackson believes industry will be more ready to adopt new technologies developed through ACWA because issues of scale are non-existent at the facility.

“One of the reasons this facility is unique is that we will be testing and engineering biological processes at full-scale,” said Jackson. “In fact the system is designed to push it to failure. We want to see how far we can push it before it actually breaks down.”

The ACWA facility is also unique in having wastewater research and engineering embedded in the same facility.

“The engineering component of this, things like biological nutrient removal, advanced membrane technology, ozonation, UV treatment, all of this is done right within [a] working wastewater treatment park, not off site in a research facility like a laboratory,” said Jackson.

One of the main goals of the ACWA facility is to study emerging “compounds of concern,” such as flame retardants and pharmaceuticals, in wastewater. The real question for scientists like Jackson is how these compounds react with each other and what they may produce.

“We are going to be looking at the effect of mixtures given status quo for treatment and then given these advanced engineering and other treatment options available on these experimental streams,” said Jackson.

The 12 simulation streams will each be 325 meters long, located outdoors in clay liners.

“They will still have the same fluctuation of temperature that the Bow River would, will still have the same solar radiation,” said Jackson. “We will populate the stream with insects and fish that are native to around here. We are trying to mimic a stream like Jumping Pound Creek.”

The facility will conduct experiments on a variety of sources of water depending on the aim of the experiment. Water from the Bow River, the Glenmore Reservoir and water treated with new technologies on site can go through the streams.

“Water can, if necessary can go back through the wastewater treatment plant for treatment if it doesn’t meet any effluent guidelines,” said Jackson. “But because the technologies that we are testing are supposed to improve wastewater quality we imagine that they will actually be better.”

The facility has received interest from businesses as well as the research community.

“We have interest from an Italian company that produces some wastewater treatment technology that is used pilot scale in a few places and they are very interested in participating with this and going up to full-scale,” said Jackson. “Obviously the commercialization aspect of new technologies is huge. Especially if it is fairly cost effective there are thousands of utilities in Canada alone that would be interested in producing cleaner wastewater.”

The facility’s research component will be fully functional in two years and will be accessible to undergraduate and graduate students alike.

“We certainly hope that there is an educational role there,” said Jackson. “Undergraduates could be hired to help graduate students with their projects in the summer, and of course graduate students will do research there.”

Jackson is excited about the progress he and his colleagues have made towards making the project a reality, and the cutting edge research that will be occurring at the ACWA.

“It is quite visionary, a lot of people in the beginning didn’t think we could do it, they didn’t think anybody would fund us but we still felt the vision was worth trying to pursue and it looks like it’s going to happen,” said Jackson.

“There is nowhere else you can do this research. You can’t dump compounds on purpose into rivers. It may challenge the way things operate. We normally look at these things in a laboratory where conditions are pretty controlled, once we get out in what we might call the real world there are going to be some surprises, and those are the things that are always frustrating at first because we don’t understand them.”

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