Engineers in the water industry are embracing outside-the box thinking, innovative solutions and a circular economy.
Dr Sonja Toft, Production Excellence Manager, Environmental and Industrial Team, Urban Utilities, says there has never been a more exciting time for engineers to join the water industry.
The role of engineers is shifting to meet the challenges posed by population growth and climate change, says Toft. This is particularly true in the water sector, making her role highly engaging.
“While there will always be a need for engineers to build traditional infrastructure such as pipes, pumps, reservoirs and treatment plants, we’re seeing the traditional bricks-and-mortar concept of engineering expand to outside-the-box, non-infrastructure solutions. This is creating a lot of new exciting opportunities,” says Toft.
Over the past few years Toft has been involved in several innovative projects while working for Urban Utilities.
One used electricity generated from the wastewater treatment process to fuel Australia’s first ‘poo-powered’ electric car, while another focused on treating wastewater in a cleaner, greener way using home-grown ‘superbugs’.
“I’m particularly proud to have been a part of an Australian-first project that used Anammox ‘superbugs’ to remove nutrients from wastewater. The process significantly reduces energy and chemical use and is more efficient than the traditional treatment process.”
After 10 years of research and development, last year Urban Utilities began using the Anammox bacteria in large scale wastewater treatment.
Toft says the project took an innovative approach to engineering, using naturally occurring Anammox bugs to increase capacity at Brisbane’s largest wastewater treatment plant, supporting population growth without requiring new, large and costly infrastructure.
Doing more with what we have
Toft says modern wastewater treatment involves more resource recovery, where sewage isn’t viewed as waste, but as a valuable resource we can harness.
“At Urban Utilities we are focused on finding ways to use waste to generate useful resources like biofuel, fertiliser and power,” says Toft. “It’s part of a growing focus on the circular economy, where engineers help to find creative ways to do more with the resources we already have.”
Toft says one way that Urban Utilities is supporting the region’s circular economy is by producing recycled water at many of its wastewater treatment plants.
“We supply highly treated wastewater to customers to sustainably irrigate sporting fields, golf courses and farms, and it’s also used in construction and industry,” says Toft.
“Finding creative, sustainable solutions that have a real, positive impact on our community is what I love doing as a process engineer. Working in the water industry is an ongoing journey. It’s never dull, and there isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not challenged or inspired by the work I do.
“I’d definitely encourage engineers looking for a fulfilling career to dive into the water industry. There has never been a better time.”