Dr Qilin Wang

Innovation:
Zero-energy water treatment

Senior Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney; PhD (Environmental engineering), University of Queensland

UTS Senior Lecturer Dr Qilin Wang tests a water sample.

Wastewater treatment plants are large energy consumers and costly to run. However, wastewater also contains large amounts of energy.

In some treatment plants, energy is produced in anaerobic digesters, where the available biodegradable organic matter in wastewater waste is broken down to produce biogas in the presence of indigenous microorganisms.

This process is effective but it recovers only 5 to 10 per cent of the energy stored in wastewater.

UTS Senior Lecturer Qilin Wang has developed technology that maximises the energy recovered from wastewater by using a byproduct of the wastewater treatment itself: free ammonia.

Wang’s key innovation is that free ammonia is a byproduct of wastewater treatment, thereby delivering a closed-loop technology with negligible external chemical and energy input.

“This technology is able to transform the non-biodegradable organic matter in wastewater waste into biodegradable organic matter that is available for biogas production,” Wang says.

“I have developed an innovative and green technology, which enhances energy recovery from wastewater by four to six times of what is currently achievable.”

Wang’s key innovation is that free ammonia is a byproduct of wastewater treatment, thereby delivering a closed-loop technology with negligible external chemical and energy input.

Free ammonia is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process and needs to be removed, because it can cause eutrophication of the external environment when treated water is discharged. Wang’s process leverages this byproduct to significantly enhance energy recovery from wastewater prior to the final removal of free ammonia.

Wang highlights a number of benefits from his innovation, including the production of energy, economic benefits, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and job creation.

Judges’ comments:

“This is a breakthrough technology that has direct application for community and environmental benefit. The closed system nature of this innovation is particularly powerful. Taking ammonia, which is currently a waste product arising from wastewater treatment, and using it as an input into a pre-treatment phase that then generates energy appears to be a win-win scenario for any organisation that is treating wastewater.

“Generating energy from wastewater treatment rather than consuming it will change the dynamics for local government areas that are responsible for water supply.”

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