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Wastewater Utilities Europe

Fit for 55: European proposal drives Dutch wastewater research

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

A new European Commission proposal to reduce CO2 emissions has prompted the Dutch Water Authorities to conduct further research at wastewater treatment plants.

'Fit of 55'

The renewed proposal, called the 'Fit for 55', aims to accelerate the reduction of CO2 emissions by 55 per cent instead of the previous 40 per cent by 2030.

As a result, the Dutch Water Authorities, an organisation including 21 regional water authorities, is researching greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants, such as nitrous oxide and methane.

The plans represent a tightening of the 49 per cent CO2 reduction target, set out in the Dutch Climate Agreement in 2019.

The European Union’s (EU) commitment to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions was presented to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2020.

“The plans represent a tightening of the 49 per cent CO2 reduction target which was set out in the Dutch Climate Agreement in 2019.”

Already, the EU's existing climate and energy legislation has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 24 per cent, compared to 1990.

The EU's long-term budget for the next seven years will provide support for the green transition, 30 per cent of programmes under the €2 trillion 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and NextGenerationEU are dedicated to supporting climate action.

The European Commission said these new targets would be 'crucial' for Europe becoming the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

An ambitious proposal

The renewed increase in the reduction of CO2 emissions is an ambitious proposal yet one that the Dutch Water Authorities welcome: "The water authorities are in favour of an ambitious national climate policy, and it is clear that our WWTP's face a tough challenge."

At present, the scope for action to reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions produced by wastewater treatment plants is still limited.

“For methane, there are more possibilities than for nitrous oxide. Fortunately, we are gradually gaining more insight into the process control of nitrogen removal for nitrous oxide," the organisation said.

"The water authorities are in favour of an ambitious national climate policy, and it is clear that our WWTPs face a tough challenge."

They went on to say, "However, complete removal of nitrous oxide is not feasible.”

Despite the initial optimism to achieve the new 'Fit for 55' proposal, the Dutch Water Authorities believe they will have to look at the entire wastewater treatment plant process to reduce emissions produced.

This is not the first time a group has put its reputation on the line. Engineering design firm Stantec pledged to become carbon neutral by next year as a first step in achieving net-zero operations by 2030.

Your average wastewater plant

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that an average wastewater treatment plant releases 700 kilotons (700,000,000 Kg) of CO2 equivalents in nitrous oxide per year.

However, the Dutch Water Authorities said the IPCC figures are based on international measurements at a limited number of wastewater treatment plants during a short period of time.

Therefore, the organisation believes that this model cannot be effectively applied to its models and is therefore carrying out research into the emissions from wastewater treatment plants. Furthermore, tests into emission reduction will involve new control techniques.

A Water Factory: Circular treatment plants

It is hoped the new research could accelerate the drive for new types of wastewater treatment plants, called Water Factories. This would see circular economy principles applied to the whole wastewater treatment process.

For example, the CO2 produced from a treatment plant could be used to supply the horticultural sector or the process industry.

Elsewhere, in Denmark, utility Aarhus Vand is planning for its ReWater wastewater treatment plant to become one of the most advanced resource centres in the world.

In comparison, traditional wastewater treatment plants have a life span of over 30 years and can lack the ability to adapt quickly to new technologies and innovations.

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