Trends in WWTP management for 2021: automatic, preemptive and sustainable decisions

The trends in WWTP management for 2021 are part of the evolution of this type of infrastructure. The discovery of activated sludge by the engineers E. Arden and W. Lockett at the beginning of the 20th century meant a change in the established paradigm in the field of wastewater treatment, paving the way for a technological breakthrough that definitively changed our relationship with the environment. Cities were no longer a hive of insalubrious conditions and the watercourses that had degraded constantly since the First Industrial Revolution began to recover their biodiversity.

However, nowadays, in an increasingly changing environment, wastewater treatment plants are facing new challenges that are putting their resilience and ability to adapt to the test, requiring progress in sensor implementation, digital transformation, the breaking down of information silos and automated decision-making.

Public and private utilities are increasingly confronted with ever tighter financial resources to manage facilities. Stricter plant effluent and sludge quality requirements demand greater precision in process operations. Pressing environmental concerns are leading to a need to minimize plant impact measured in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, odors and noise. Finally, there is a growing interest in managing assets throughout their life cycle.

It is even more important to implement a decision-making process in wastewater treatment plants that harmonizes the four aspects mentioned above. The new connectivity and data management opportunities offered by Industry 4.0 are opening up new horizons in the management of wastewater treatment plants.

Up until now, different platforms have controlled these areas separately, causing management inefficiencies. The future lies in centralized management, through platforms that are capable of monitoring and connecting all variables in real time and assisting in decision-making in each of the four main areas. These are the top trends in WWTP management for 2021.

1 – Data integration in smart SCADAs

Today, the industrial automation systems used in wastewater treatment plants are key to their everyday operations. However, these systems need to move towards a solution that harnesses the full potential of the incipient Industry 4.0.

Adding sensors to all devices is the first step towards the centralization of relevant data for WWTP managers. Sound management of these increasingly complex infrastructures requires aggregating data from internal sources (LIMS, CMMS, SCADAs, field devices) and external sources (meteorological data and social networks, mainly) in a single point.

Breaking down information silos by interconnecting all data sources provides a more holistic view of operations and helps to extract value from data to improve decision-making.

The new ways of integrating sensor-based data are geared towards achieving scalability and connectivity, aiming to be flexible and user-friendly, adapting to the particularities of each WWTP.

Trends in WWTP management for 2021

2 – Automatic, preemtive decisions

Algorithms and mathematical models applied to centralized data provide managers with recommendations on what actions to take next. This criterion, based on experience and plant operation optimization, preempts problems by taking different factors into account, such as the weather and expected pollutant levels.

This functionality is relevant to virtually all aspects of wastewater treatment plant operations, from odor generation to asset management, which can be predicted through continuous monitoring of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) parameters. Managers can receive alerts and ascertain the degradation of assets before they fail. This means that equipment can be replaced without interrupting the service.

Another step forward in this area is automatic decision-making: the system takes into account all the variables to autonomously activate the necessary plant operations. Self-calibration of the mathematical models, taking into account the constantly changing conditions, is a milestone that can only be achieved by including algorithms in the system.

3 – The circular economy and greater commitment to sustainability

Population demands for sustainability are increasing, and this trend includes WWTPs. More and more measures are being taken to reduce greenhouse gases and the carbon footprint of these facilities.

Quality objectives have broadened, and it is no longer enough to produce good quality water and sludge at the lowest possible cost; plant managers must also take other aspects into account, such as minimizing noise and odor emissions.

WWTPs have an important role to play in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Technology can help reduce water pollution by eliminating discharges and minimizing the emission of chemicals and hazardous materials.

Idrica’s Global Water Trends 2021 report provides a comprehensive list of trends for the industry, including the trends in WWTP management for 2021.

Jacobo Illueca, Wastewater Consultant, Idrica

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