Water has been a critical symbol of the climate crisis Australia is facing, particularly recently throughout 2020 and into 2021. Severe drought and floods have been experienced across the country, and wastewater is becoming an ever more important resource. This is both for the value embodied in purified recycled water, either for drinking or non-drinking purposes and for useful organics and nutrient sources available in wastewaters.
Our most valued resource, long-term security of water needs long-term vision and solutions that are flexible, scalable, innovative, and are able to meet the needs we have today, whilst creating a future where there is no such thing as “wasted water”.
In 2008, the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme (WCRWS), a $2.5Bn infrastructure investment by the QLD Government, aimed to future-proof water within South-East Queensland, which at the time was 60% drought declared.
As the operations and maintenance partner for the Scheme, Veolia oversees more than 200 km of large diameter pipelines, three advanced treatment plants, eleven storage tanks and nine pumping stations. The Scheme remains one of the largest of its kind in the world and exemplifies that investment in infrastructure, in tandem with behavioural changes, is essential in ensuring the resilience and security of water supply, at all times in climate cycles.
Kathy Northcott, Veolia’s Research and Development Manager cites the WCRWS as one of the leading examples of innovative planning to reimagine the potential of wastewater, “At full operation, the advanced water treatment plants within WCRWS can produce about 180 million litres a day, equivalent to 20% of current demand.”
“In order for Australia to manage the fluctuations of increasing climate volatility, whilst deriving maximum value from an asset, we need to look at options for adaptation. This could, for example, include repurposing existing water recycling infrastructure to balance society’s needs for secure water sources, with our need for clean, green energy, such as highly purified recycled water for hydrogen fuel production.”
Northcott who is, a chartered chemical engineer with over 24 years industry experience, explained that the global wastewater treatment industry is rapidly evolving, with environmental concerns such as emerging contaminants, climate change and digital innovation in the form of data and automation driving ongoing development.
Northcott explains that “Veolia has access to world-leading scientific development and research activities, in both Australia and across our globe operation” She also mentions that in many areas, however, Veolia’s Australian business units are leading the way, pointing to Sydney’s Barangaroo district, where the company operates and maintains one of Australia’s largest energy, cooling and water treatment schemes.
The Barangaroo project includes electricity and cooling networks and a water treatment and recycling plant. Veolia’s system makes it possible to recycle the 500,000 litres of drinking water used daily in the district. Additional water is recovered by collecting rainwater, and during slack periods, the plant also processes some of Sydney’s wastewater. In total, the plant is capable of producing more than one million litres of recycled water every day.
Northcott also highlights Veolia’s research and development in data-driven predictive maintenance. “Digital innovation is allowing us to develop artificial intelligence to assist our clients to determine where we should put our efforts to prevent sewer and water network breaks and blockages and foster proactive renewal programs”.
“It’s about understanding which parts of the water network should be replaced to prevent pipe failures and doing the most we possibly can to maintain our client’s sewer and drinking water systems,” she says.
Veolia Strategy and Growth Director- Water, Arran Canning, in addition, says that the progressive rollout of 5G networks will inform future wastewater opportunities – opening up Veolia’s potential to offer cost-effective, world-class solutions to remote and regional operations.
Canning says, “5G will provide significant potential in remote monitoring and management. These new systems will be data-driven and require less onsite manpower because we can install sensors on everything,” he says.
Canning recently visited the University of Sunshine Coast where Veolia’s solar-powered water battery facility is located. The thermal energy storage tank keeps the entire university campus cool, and in its first year of operations has saved more than 4232 tonnes of CO2 emissions and a 40% reduction in on-campus electricity use.
Veolia runs a program called BOOST, which facilitates collaborative relationships with its clients – with both parties working together on innovative projects and technological advancement.
“We talk with our clients about targeted solutions to their challenges, be it technology, asset management or digital innovation,” Canning says.
“It’s about making sure we’re providing the best value for our existing contracts, while also looking at new opportunities and what we can offer.”
In addition, Northcott added that Veolia has pre-existing research and development agreements in place with some of its larger water clients. “Through those agreements, we undertake collaborative research and innovation activities for mutual benefit,” she says.
“It’s beneficial as both parties are putting their efforts together to solve a particular problem and come up with a viable solution.”
CLOSED LOOP TREATMENT HUBS
Looking forward, Canning predicts further emphasis to be placed on energy production at wastewater facilities.
“I think the future of wastewater will see more hydrogen production, biorefineries and really creating hubs around treatment facilities,” he says.
“Those hubs will receive wastewater that is treated and recycled, before supplying that highly purified recycled water for agricultural or drinking use.”
These hubs will function as circular economy facilities, Canning adds, treating wastewater and solid waste to produce energy and high-quality biosolids.
“The advantage that Veolia has is we manage solid waste as well, so we can bring other waste from the community into those bioreactors to either 100 per cent energy offset the facility or provide energy back into the grid,” he says.
Northcott added that wastewater treatment facilities could be co-located with agricultural activities. She explains that as wastewater possesses significant organic carbon and nutrient value, water, biosolids and nutrients could be recovered to be utilised in horticulture and aquaculture enterprises.
“I also think the future will see closed loop solutions, with wastewater treatment plants becoming net-energy producers rather than users".
“While we’ll see centralisation in the form of big treatment hubs, I also think there will be a rise in precinct level decentralisation and more of these Barangaroo type precincts in our capital cities.
“Luckily Veolia has a foot in all camps. It’s an exciting time.” Northcott says.