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Open Access Striking the Balance between Nutrient Removal, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Receiving Water Quality, and Costs

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This Water Environment Research Foundation study considered the relationship between varying nutrient-removal levels at wastewater treatment plants, greenhouse gas emissions, receiving water quality (measured by potential algal production), and costs. The effluent nutrient concentrations required by some U.S. permits are very low, approaching the technology‐best-achievable performance. This study evaluated five different treatment levels at a nominal 40 ML/d (10 mgd) flow. Greenhouse gas emissions and costs increase gradually up to the technologies' best-achievable performance, after which they increase exponentially. The gradual increase is attributed to additional biological treatment facilities, increased energy and chemical use, and additional tertiary nitrogen and phosphorus removal processes. Within the limited focus of this study, the evaluation shows that a point of diminishing return is reached as nutrient-removal objectives approach the technology‐best-achievable performance, where greenhouse gas emissions and cost of treatment increases rapidly while the potential for algal growth reduce marginally.

Keywords: greenhouse gas emissions; nitrogen; nutrients; phosphorus; sustainability

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2013

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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