National research effort focuses on side stream phosphorus removal and recovery technology

As phosphorus limits permitted in wastewater effluent shrink to protect drinking water sources, a nationwide research effort headed by Black & Veatch has started work to advance implementation of a leading-edge treatment technology for phosphorus removal and recovery.

Pioneered by Black & Veatch’s Dr James Barnard in the 1970s and offering greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness than chemical processes, enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) has been adopted by communities worldwide to meet water quality requirements. Yet understanding of the process’s ecology, functionality and optimal design remains incomplete. Selected by the Water Research Foundation (WRF), the Black & Veatch-led team will be completing research to establish a standard approach to EBPR’s application.

With a value of $1.3 million (SGD $1.8 million) plus approximately $1.2 million (SGD $1.7 million) from in-kind and cost-share contributions, the WRF research project is focused specifically on the application of an EBPR configuration called Side Stream Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal, or S2EBPR. The configuration uses anaerobic conditioning of activated sludge biomass to promote stability and consistent performance in the biological nutrient removal (BNR) process. The objectives of this project are to develop design guidelines, operational tool recommendations, and modelling best practices for S2EBPR facilities.

Leon Downing, Principal Process Engineer and Innovation Leader at Black & Veatch, is the project’s principal investigator. Downing is joined by co-principal investigator professor April Gu of Cornell University and Dr Barnard, who is credited with formalising many BNR processes and who is leading the project’s advisory team. A blue-ribbon team has been assembled to complete the research over the next 30 months. The team includes five consulting firms: Black & Veatch, CDM-Smith, Hazen & Sawyer, Brown and Caldwell, and Gert P Environmental ApS. Five universities are participating including Cornell, Washington, Northwestern, Northeastern, and Aarhus. Utility partners include:

  • Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, Ill. 
  • Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, Denver, Colo.
  • Charlotte Water, NC
  • Hampton Roads Sanitation District, VA
  • Clean Water Services, OR
  • Geneva, Ill.
  • Western Wake WRD, NC
  • Boulder, Colo.
  • NEW Water, Green Bay, Wisc.
  • Wilson, NC
  • Trinity River Authority of Texas
  • Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, Wisc.
  • Longmont, Colo.
  • DC Water, Va.
  • Toronto Water, Canada
  • Olathe, KS
  • South Cary, NC

“Our industry is ready for a universally recognised and user-friendly approach to EBPR,” Downing said. “By promoting improved performance and process stability in EBPR, this research will greatly help utilities minimise their chemical and energy costs as well as achieve very low concentrations of phosphorus in their effluent.” 

Phosphorus is essential to plant and animal growth. Yet the nutrient becomes a pollutant when deposited in waterways in excessive amounts via wastewater discharges and stormwater runoffs, fuelling toxic algal blooms and contributing to hypoxic dead zones that threaten ecosystems and public health. Effective removal of phosphorus during wastewater treatment is gaining more and more scrutiny from communities and regulators. EBPR is also the precursor to enabling many of the technologies currently utilised for phosphorus, as well as carbon/energy recovery from wastewater.

(SGD $1.8 million)