Prospective environmental and economic assessment of solar-assisted thermal energy recovery from wastewater through a sequencing batch biofilter granular reactor

Muñoz I, Portillo F,  Rosiek S,  Batlles F J, Martínez-Del-Río J, Acasuso I, Piergrossi V, De Sanctis M, Chimienti S, Di Iaconi C (2019)

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Journal of Cleaner Production 212:1300-1309


The integration of an off-grid solar-assisted heat pump (SHP) and a sequencing batch biofilter granular reactor (SBBGR) for thermal energy recovery from wastewater was assessed by means of a prospective life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle costing (LCC), by theoretically scaling up a pilot installation in Bari, Italy, to a full-scale unit designed for 5000 person-equivalents. The LCA and LCC included all activities in the life cycle of the SHP and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), namely construction, operation and end-of-life. The thermal energy produced by the SHP was assessed as supplying heating and cooling for an air-conditioning system, displacing a conventional air-source heat pump powered by electricity from the grid. This integrated system was compared to a reference situation where wastewater is treated in a conventional WWTP applying activated sludge with no thermal energy recovery system, showing clear environmental benefits in all impact indicators, such as a 42% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions and a cost reduction of 53%. Several sensitivity analyses confirmed these findings, with the exception of the price rebound effect, which showed that the lower cost of the integrated system could lead to overturning the environmental benefits. As a limitation of the study, the distribution of the supplied air-conditioning to meet a demand off-site the WWTP premises, such as in residential buildings or hotels, was not included. Therefore, our results constitute only a preliminary positive outcome that should be validated in a real-life application.

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