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Blue Sky Evaluations Produce Innovative Ideas for the Future of Sustainable Wastewater Treatment

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The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRDGC) is currently undertaking an Infrastructure and Process Needs Feasibility (Master Planning) Study for the Hanover Park Water Reclamation Plan (HPWRP). A “Blue Sky” design approach was taken to establish the upper end or “Blue Sky” of the range of treatment technology alternatives and process approaches to achieve potential future effluent and nutrient thresholds. In this approach, a panel of five wastewater treatment process experts were selected and tasked with developing a concept plan for what the HPWRP should look like at 2060 - a milestone well beyond the planning horizon for the current master planning study and far enough into the future to allow them to consider more innovative and emergent technologies as part of their solutions. Each was asked to work independently, and was given a “green field” site to work with to offer maximum potential for creative ideas. Flow schemes for each of the five concept designs are shown in this abstract. A “Triple Bottom Line” evaluation approach was taken to compare the relative merits of each of the five flow schemes, by incorporating weighed economic, environmental, and social factors in the overall design, in an attempt to incorporate sustainability criteria in the evaluation. No one flow scheme proved to be an outright “winner” for all three areas of concern. The flow scheme that chose not to use primary clarifiers had the highest overall score for liquid treatment, greatly influenced by the lower capital cost. The flow scheme that included carbon sequestration after the incineration of biosolids, which lowers GHG emissions, scored highest for biosolids treatment. The flow scheme that proposed a solution for peak flow management that was “out of the box” scored highest. This flow scheme proposes that peak flow be managed in the collection system by such measures as disconnecting basement sump pumps from the sewage lines and collecting rainwater in tanks at individual households, rather than trying to treat the whole flow at the wastewater plant. Some of the ideas presented in the Blue Sky schemes are several years from being practical solutions, or would be expensive to retrofit to the existing wastewater treatment facility. However, by engaging in this creative exercise and widening the field of possibilities, the project team generated ideas which may not have been thought of had the traditional, more focused approach been taken, and typical boundary conditions applied. In fact, several of the ideas developed in the “Blue Sky” approach were carried forward for evaluation as options to upgrade the plant in the medium term.
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Keywords: energy recovery; innovation; nutrient recovery; sustainable

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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