Creating circular solutions for utilities: the smart way

The global water and waste sectors are facing environmental challenges with the move to net zero carbon. Utilities must now focus on innovation and integrating digital technologies to mitigate climate risks.

The global water and waste sectors are facing environmental challenges with the move to net zero carbon. Utilities must now focus on innovation and integrating digital technologies to mitigate climate risks.

A name synonymous with innovation, a leading water and wastewater management solutions company, SUEZ, has released a new strategic plan. The plan provides a roadmap for Australian water utilities to help them manage water and wastewater challenges coming to fruition over the next decade.

Globally, the plan includes a 50 per cent increase in the company’s research and development (R&D) budget. It also aims to boost investment by $1.3 billion in circular solutions for the water and waste sectors over the next five years.

The plan is centred around improving people’s quality of life on a day-to-day basis through water and waste innovations. This will help utilities in Australia better understand how to combat growing challenges such as flooding, droughts, energy issues, pipeline leaks and more.

Adjusting to the new normal through digital technologies

One development in the water sector is the implementation of digital technologies, including products such as IoT-connected devices and smart meters. These units can increase asset efficiency, improve customer experience, and ease communication between utilities and end-users.

SUEZ’s plan will harness digital technologies to help strengthen solutions for preserving water resources, combating pollutants, and recycling water. It will also seek to produce green energy from wastewater, reducing its customers’ carbon footprints.

The plan also highlights a continued investment in innovative water technology that preserves water by detecting network leaks and advising users on consumption and behind-the-meter leakage. It also seeks to provide utilities with a tool to interact with users through gamification.

These approaches will increase SUEZ’s global footprint, leading to improved wastewater recovery for reuse, energy harvesting and carbon footprint reduction, and water resilience. The company’s primary goal is to foster circular solutions, help customers through their ecological transitions and sustainably set up communities for generations to come.

Circular economy drives a green future

A prime example of how SUEZ is spearheading ecological transition is with the Pau Béarn Pyrénées Agglomeration Community. Located in France under a consortium led by SUEZ, the project involves producing renewable energy by recovering energy from wastewater.

It achieves this through operating a wastewater treatment plant and constructing methanisation and methanation plants. These facilities work together to reduce biomethane emissions by 50 per cent, which plays a role in the region’s ambitious initiative to adapt to climate change.

This Biofactory is helping to develop ten green resources. These green resources are biomethane, synthetic methane, biochar, heat, electricity, nitrogen fertiliser, oxygen, green hydrogen, reused water, and vegetable crops.

The project also features two global technological firsts. One is “ultra-dehydration” through hydrothermal carbonisation. It reduces sewage sludge volume by a factor of four. It consumes three to four times less energy than a conventional thermal dryer.

The second technological development focuses on energy optimisation. The production of synthetic methane from the methanation of carbon dioxide (CO2, a greenhouse gas). This transforms all the CO2 emitted into synthetic methane, a renewable green gas.

The impact on Australian utilities

SUEZ’s new strategic plan, coupled with its global research and development projects, will provide new insights, supporting local utility operations in Australia to implement efficient water management methods under a streamlined operating model. These insights and new models will provide customers with a comprehensive approach to managing their utility assets across their entire lifecycle.

Australia also has robust plans to achieve carbon neutrality, and utilities can play a role by reducing emissions and creating green energy from their wastewater resource.

SUEZ Australia & New Zealand said these new research and innovation projects aim to add value for the company’s customers.

“Our strategic plan is about looking holistically at water and wastewater and how we can revolutionise its management in Australia, supporting our customers in their journey of achieving carbon neutrality,” they said.

“It also explores how innovations can deliver long-term value to utility projects and the people and communities they serve. Given the impacts of climate change, we also need to consider how to make operations sustainable and optimise the efficiency of both existing and new assets. SUEZ has references and solutions ready to deploy in the local market.”

By innovating how utilities manage water, SUEZ can help them mitigate the impact of environmental challenges while improving the lives of their communities for the future.

Sustainable strategies for plant upgrades

With terminologies such as ‘resiliency’ and ‘sustainability’ gaining popularity within the water sector, sustainable water infrastructure goes beyond ‘going green.’ It’s about creating reliable, consistent infrastructure that can be managed and maintained well into the future without compromising the environment. For a wastewater treatment plant, this may involve procuring technologies that boost energy-efficient treatment processes that meet the current and future needs of the environment.

Victorian utility, South East Water, contracted joint venture John Holland, SUEZ and Beca to deliver an upgrade of its Boneo Water Recycling Treatment Plant. SUEZ led an innovative, sustainable procurement strategy for the project and brought experience in process technology solutions and operational services to maximise the efficiency and performance reliability of the plant.

Initial works focused on incorporating leading low-energy nutrient removal and energy recovery processes to help South East Water achieve its emissions reduction target of 45 per cent by 2025.

Modernising through digital technologies

With the plant’s construction, the joint venture prioritised modernising the plant by utilising several breakthrough digital technologies, including optimised anaerobic digestion, Nitrite Shunt, and anammox sidestream. These helped reduce South East Water’s reliance on grid electricity and improved capacity to serve the local community’s needs.

The project also prioritised transforming a conventional linear wastewater treatment plant into a plant that creates circular solutions. This involved reducing treatment expenses (including energy and chemicals) and reducing its carbon footprint. At the same time, they increased revenues from water, biosolids utilisation, energy recovery and nutrient recovery.

 The procurement strategy allowed the joint venture to manage the interface risk of designing and constructing a complex technology upgrade, which resulted in Australia’s first SUEZ Biofactory.

The strategy also outlined the critical success factors for enabling innovation that can be replicated for different utilities. These included clear communication, a collaborative approach, interactive sessions, a desire for leading-edge technology, a long O&M period, not requiring a tender conforming to the reference design, and a genuine focus on the best whole-of-life cost.

Collaboration is key

In part, this strategy was successful due to the collaborative nature of the joint venture, with a designer, constructor and operator committed for the entire contract term.

Peter Segura, SUEZ’s O&M Manager for the Boneo WRP Project, said that by working openly with South East Water throughout the project, SUEZ was able to ensure that all parties were comfortable with the innovative technology used.

“Clear communication was important to everyone involved. We needed to work together to ensure that South East Water ultimately received an asset that achieved their objectives and optimised capital costs without compromising integrity,” said Segura.

“We held interactive sessions with South East Water to test new technology and concepts, which helped us to come up with solutions that best met their needs.”

South East Water’s General Manager – Liveable Water Solutions, Charlie Littlefair, spoke about how that collaboration played a crucial role in generating new ideas. It also promoted knowledge-sharing, which led to the procurement of innovative technology.

“For our Boneo project, SUEZ made sure that collaboration was at the core of our approach to innovation,” he said.

“By bringing together people with different ideas, views and experiences, the joint venture spurred new ideas, creating a joint momentum for disrupting the traditional way of doing things.”

Boneo WRP perfect example of innovative procurement

The benefits of SUEZ’s approach to the project and the implementation of technological solutions included decreased project costs, reduced carbon footprints, and lower energy consumption. The overall success of SUEZ’s strategy provides other treatment plants with a template to implement new technology and produce innovative outcomes.

Rachael Nuttall, Business Development Manager at SUEZ, said, “We want our approach to innovation and solutions to serve as a roadmap for Australia’s utilities and provide an outline for how we can transform procurement in water and wastewater treatment.”

“This will require a desire for leading-edge technology across the sector and a collaborative approach between our customers and communities.”

Procuring innovative technology helps utilities overcome their current sustainability challenges whilst future-proofing their assets. This enables them to gain the most value across the entirety of their assets’ lifecycle by creating customised solutions that best meet their sustainability, financial and social needs.

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