Q&A: How real-time monitoring is changing wastewater treatment

As an applications engineer with Xylem’s YSI brand, Dr. Rob Smith helps wastewater utilities optimize performance. Smith has a PhD in environmental engineering, and previously worked as a consultant helping plan and design water reclamation facilities. Read our Q&A with Rob to learn how wastewater utilities are using real-time monitoring to lower energy use.

Q: What is your role at YSI, and how do you help customers improve their wastewater processes?

Rob: I currently work at YSI as an applications engineer on our municipal team. My role is to serve as a technical advisor and educator for how to best apply analytical instrumentation to the operation and design of water reclamation facilities.

YSI is providing another way for people to learn about wastewater treatment. Not just learning about sensors and monitoring equipment, but really about the treatment process so they can become better operators, better managers, or better engineers.

Q: How important is energy efficiency for treatment facilities?

Rob: It’s very important. In the U.S., drinking water and wastewater utilities consume about 3% of our country’s electricity. That’s a big number. You also have to keep in mind that this power consumption is very concentrated at community water utilities.

For reclamation facilities, the biggest part of their energy budget is usually for aeration of activated sludge. Of a given plant’s energy budget, usually 50% to 80% of the total energy goes towards this part of the process. Unfortunately, there is a lot of inefficiency in these systems, which means there’s a lot of energy wasted, that could be conserved.

With continuous monitoring of water quality, operators always know the status of their process. They can continually adjust their aerators, mixers or diffusers to minimize their energy footprint without impacting treatment. And so, for example, if dissolved oxygen levels rise above what’s needed for aeration and the facility is using excessive energy, that data can immediately feed into the aeration control system and it will act to reduce the intensity of that aeration and subsequently the energy consumption.

Q: What technologies from YSI and Xylem are used for process monitoring and control?

Rob: The monitoring and control technologies that come to mind are the IQ SensorNet platform from YSI, the OSCAR system from Sanitaire, and the Flygt Concertor wastewater pumping system.

YSI’s IQ SensorNet is a process monitoring platform designed specifically for water reclamation. It consists of a network of sensors that collect continuous, in-situ measurements such as turbidity, dissolved oxygen, ammonium, and nitrate. It collects all the data a utility needs to effectively operate their facility.

Those data can be communicated to a plant PLC/SCADA system or the OSCAR process performance optimizer, which can be programmed to automate important procedures, improve energy efficiency of treatment, and improve performance.

The Flygt Concertor is a drive, pump, and computer all-in-one. Clogging of pumps is a big problem especially with so-called “flushable” wipes. The Concertor technology clears potential jams automatically. It also adapts automatically to achieve the most optimum operating point.

Q: What does the future of water resource recovery look like?

Rob: I’m pretty bullish on the future and I’d say sustainability will be a big driver for this industry in the coming years. Utilities are discovering that there are much more efficient methods to treat water than what we’ve done for the past several decades.

It’s appropriate that “wastewater facilities” are rebranding themselves as “water resource recovery facilities” (or WRRFs) because they’ve moved beyond just treating water. Sure, they recover water, but also nutrients and energy from treatment as well.

Treatment intensification is one of the new buzzwords that pops up at conferences, and basically that’s achieving enhanced levels of treatment with less expensive processes, with the ultimate goal of recovering more resources. The idea is to shunt carbon to sludge digestion where energy can be recovered and to utilize shortcut nitrogen removal processes to minimize operating costs for aeration and chemicals.

And so the future of water reclamation is really bright, and a lot of it has to do with new technologies that are emerging, most of which rely heavily on analytics and continuous monitoring. YSI will play be a big part in this transformation.

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