Sino-Dutch R&D Centre for Future Wastewater Treatment Technologies/Key Laboratory of Urban Stormwater System and Water Environment, Beijing University of Civil Engineering & Architecture, Beijing, 100044, PR China. Electronic address: [Email]
In dealing with wastewater, chemical energy has traditionally been perceived as the only source of recoverable energy in moving towards the carbon-neutral operation of wastewater treatment plants. Based on an estimation of practically recoverable energy embedded in municipal wastewater, however, the potential for thermal energy (90% recovery from wastewater) is much higher than for chemical energy (COD, 10% recovery). The carrier of chemical energy (COD) has a high exergy value which should, from a sustainability point of view, be utilized to the greatest extent possible. Rather than being converted into methane (and subsequently into carbon dioxide), carbon (COD) contained in wastewater should be converted into highly valuable organic products. Thermal energy could be utilized for district heating/cooling, agricultural greenhouses, and even for drying dewatered sludge. In this way, thermal energy can indirectly offset the energy demand for wastewater treatment. The limitations in utilizing thermal energy are not generally based on technical difficulties; in fact, they can be mainly attributed to supply distances and governmental policies. It would, therefore, be greatly beneficial if municipal authorities would work together to jointly plan utilization of this thermal energy.