The Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday it will set stricter requirements for how coal-fired power plants dispose of wastewater full of arsenic, lead and mercury — a major source of toxic water pollution for rivers and streams near electric generators across the country, from Wyoming to Pennsylvania.
In a new rulemaking process kicked off Monday, President Biden’s team is aiming to undo one of the Trump administration’s major regulatory rollbacks. Last year, the Trump EPA watered down rules forcing many coal plants to treat wastewater with modern filtration methods and other technology before it reached waterways that provide drinking water for thousands of Americans.
Illinois municipalities hoping to save money on energy costs for wastewater treatment turn to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) for advice.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Assistance Program started in 2018 with funding from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Partnering with the University of Illinois’ Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC), the TAP team visits publicly owned wastewater treatment plants across the state and drafts no-cost assessments with specific recommendations on how to lower energy costs. Similar assessments would cost between $6,000 and $12,000.
In four years, this project has developed 108 specialized energy efficiency assessments for individual wastewater treatment plants, identifying recommendations that can save municipalities over $2.8 million annually.
Wastewater treatment plants are one of the largest users of energy in cities. The costs are significant, particularly for plants with older infrastructure. The assessments typically include costs for equipment upgrades or retrofits, the time it takes for an upgrade to pay off in energy savings, and the amount of savings that could be realized with these upgrades.
Assessments also include utility incentives from companies such as Ameren and ComEd to offset as much as 75 percent of the costs for new and updated equipment, according to Mike Springman, retiring manager of the program.
To date, the program has assisted plants serving a total population of nearly 3 million with an annual energy cost savings of $500,000 each year. If the recommendations were all implemented, the savings would include 37.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity and greenhouse gas emissions at 32,590 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
The most common areas that could be improved upon to save energy costs are controls on air blowers, variable speed drives on pumps, and indoor and outdoor lighting. Even small changes can make a big difference, Springman said.
Recently, more plant operators have posed questions about solar energy. Size of the facility and space availability are primary determining factors.
“The next assessment reports will include a discussion on solar energy so that they can make an educated decision,” Springman said.
Over time, Springman’s job has become more challenging.
“The opportunities for cost savings are becoming more complicated,” he said. “The low-hanging fruit has been picked. The easy, low-cost items have already been fixed.”
Springman says that the biggest challenge that treatment plants have faced this year is the biodegradeable wipes that end up in the sewer system. The wipes may eventually degrade in a landfill but they bind up the pumps at wastewater treatment plants, causing a big headache for staff.
The IEPA-supported Energy Assistance Program is expected to continue for at least another three years and beginning in July 2021 will also be extended to municipally operated potable water treatment systems.
Fatbergs consist of clumps of fats, oils and grease (FOG) lately joined by the addition of “disposable” wipes. They can also include facial tissue, paper towels, tampons, sanitary towels, condoms, and other wastes flushed into the sanitary sewer system. As this collection of matter grows, it goes through the chemical reaction process of saponification. Saponification breaks down FOG into fatty acid salts (soap) and glycerol. Further reaction results in calcification, transforming the blockage into something more akin to concrete than lard.
The FOG National Reference Resource Guide is a “one-stop” shop to learn about Fats, Oils, and Greases (FOG), its value as a resource, its problems in sewer conveyance lines, its contribution to sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), its cost of treatment, and how a municipality can establish or enhance a FOG Abatement program.
PowerTech Water announced the closing of its oversubscribed Series B financing round led by HG Ventures. The funds will be used to meet the rising demand for sustainable industrial water treatment, accelerate corporate partnerships, and expand operations in Lexington, Kentucky.
Tomorrow Water, an innovative total solution provider of water treatment technologies and eco-friendly waste management solutions, has been awarded a highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) grant by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The funding will support the development of its environmentally friendly technology that extracts and upcycles valuable keratin from discarded animal rendering waste. This new technology is one of the many innovations created by Tomorrow Water in its pursuit of a “clean and beautiful world beyond waste.”
Some infrastructure concerns go far less discussed than others including, notably, the issue of wastewater and sanitation. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the country’s wastewater treatment plants are functioning at an average of “81 percent of their design capacities,” and 15 percent have “reached or exceeded” that capacity. Drinking water service disruptions and flooding from sewer backups and other infrastructure failures cost U.S. households $2 billion in 2019. The ASCE predicts that figure will balloon to $14 billion in the next two decades.
But a significant percentage of American households — about 20 percent — are not connected to public plants, and instead use septic tanks or other wastewater systems that are directly connected to their homes. For communities in which any of those systems fail, the public health and socioeconomic consequences of uncontrolled sewage can be devastating.
A research team will work to accelerate the commercialization of a distributed water treatment technology that provides energy-positive treatment of high-strength food and beverage industry wastewater, thanks to a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). CEE associate professor Jeremy Guest is conducting the University of Illinois portion of the research, for which his team will receive DOE funding of nearly $420,000.