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Life-Cycle Assessment of Advanced Nutrient Removal Technologies for Wastewater Treatment

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journal contribution
posted on 12.02.2016, 00:00 by Sheikh M. Rahman, Matthew J. Eckelman, Annalisa Onnis-Hayden, April Z. Gu
Advanced nutrient removal processes, while improving the water quality of the receiving water body, can also produce indirect environmental and health impacts associated with increases in usage of energy, chemicals, and other material resources. The present study evaluated three levels of treatment for nutrient removal (N and P) using 27 representative treatment process configurations. Impacts were assessed across multiple environmental and health impacts using life-cycle assessment (LCA) following the Tool for the Reduction and Assessment of Chemical and Other Environmental Impacts (TRACI) impact-assessment method. Results show that advanced technologies that achieve high-level nutrient removal significantly decreased local eutrophication potential, while chemicals and electricity use for these advanced treatments, particularly multistage enhanced tertiary processes and reverse osmosis, simultaneously increased eutrophication indirectly and contributed to other potential environmental and health impacts including human and ecotoxicity, global warming potential, ozone depletion, and acidification. Average eutrophication potential can be reduced by about 70% when Level 2 (TN = 3 mg/L; TP = 0.1 mg/L) treatments are employed instead of Level 1 (TN = 8 mg/L; TP = 1 mg/L), but the implementation of more advanced tertiary processes for Level 3 (TN = 1 mg/L; TP = 0.01 mg/L) treatment may only lead to an additional 15% net reduction in life-cycle eutrophication potential.