Experts from all over the world came together for ecoSTP16 to discuss how ecotechnologies could potentially transform the wastewater treatment sector.

Organised by Cranfield University and held in Cambridge, this was the third IWA (International Water Association) Specialised International Conference on Ecotechnologies for Wastewater Treatment.

Academics, scientists, engineers, consultants, suppliers, economists and policy-makers from 43 countries shared thinking on the latest innovations, what is currently working, and where the future opportunities may lie.

The conference was organised and chaired by Dr Ana Soares, a Senior Lecturer in Biological Engineering at Cranfield. She said: “Transforming the wastewater treatment sector is going to require radical thinking and swift innovation as the industry is traditionally risk averse. There’s every reason to be optimistic, however, that ecotechnologies can deliver a financially-viable approach, plus higher customer and local community engagement.”

Professor Bruce Jefferson was co-chair of the conference along with fellow Cranfield academic Professor Tom Stephenson. Professor Jefferson showed how his work on anaerobic membrane bioreactors can be used as a lower-cost alternative to biological aerated processes, and how chemical removal of nutrients coupled with recovery is a feasible and economic set of processes that can be deployed as a single solution, or to partially retrofit for existing sites. A drawback of anaerobic bioreactors for mainstream treatment is the loss of methane dissolved in the wastewater – around 50% – but Professor Jefferson and Dr Ewan McAdam showed the potential for use of membrane processes to recover this resource.

The global problem of increasing water demand and scarcity, which demands new solutions for reuse of wastewater, was a particularly hot topic. Research from Spain, led by Frank Rogalla from Aqualia in Madrid, into cleaning wastewater using sustainable algae ponds alongside anaerobic digestion systems showed successful results from a 10 hectare demonstration site.

Dr Soares added: “The sector needs to be delivering innovations now, and that means more collaboration across industry and academia and rapid progress in application, making sure the economic aspects are a constant element in new thinking and how research evidence is presented.”

Other challenges for the industry are new and more complex cocktails of chemical and pharmaceutical products entering the water system, as well as the general environmental performance of wastewater treatment plants.

Experts who stressed the important role of wastewater treatment in the circular economy included Professor Mark van Loosdrecht from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and Professor Willy Verstraete from Ghent University in Belgium.

Experts gather to discuss the role of ecotechnologies in transforming the wastewater treatment sector
Experts gathered to discuss the role of ecotechnologies in transforming the wastewater treatment sector

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.