LCA study of Braunschweig wastewater scheme: Final report of project CoDiGreen work package 2

The present study analyses the environmental footprint of the Braunschweig wastewater scheme using the methodology of Life Cycle Assessment. All relevant processes of wastewater treatment and disposal are modelled in a substance flow model based on available full-scale data (year 2010) complemented by literature data to calculate aggregated emissions and resource demand of the system. Products of the system (i.e. electricity from biogas combustion, nutrients, and irrigation water) are accounted with credits for the respective substituted products. Beside the status quo of the Braunschweig system in 2010, a set of optimisation scenarios are assessed in their effects on the environmental footprint which target an enhanced recovery of energy and nutrients. The scenarios include the addition of different co-substrates, thermal hydrolysis of sludge in various configurations, nutrient recovery for nitrogen and phosphorus, and utilization of excess heat via an Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC). The energetic balance of the system is comparatively good, as 79% of the cumulative energy demand can be offset by secondary products, mainly biogas (58%) and fertilizer substitution (14%). The optimisation of nutrient and especially water management offers considerable potential for improving the energy balance, the latter due to the high demand of electricity for pumping the water to the fields. The net carbon footprint of the system amounts to 10 kg CO2-eq/(PECODa) and is mainly caused by energy-related processes, augmented by direct emissions of N2O and CH4 in the activated sludge process. Nutrient emissions in surface waters are relatively low (29 g P and 80 g N/(PECODa)) due to the transfer of nutrients to agriculture and the polishing effect of the infiltration fields. While effects on human toxicity are small after normalisation to German conditions, Cu and Zn emissions to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems lead to a substantial impact in ecotoxicity (organic substances not accounted). Normalisation of the environmental footprint reveals the primary function of the wastewater treatment plant, i.e. the protection of surface waters from inorganic and organic pollutants and excessive nutrient input. Whereas the quantitative contribution of the system is high for eutrophication and ecotoxicity, energy consumption and correlated indicators such as carbon footprint, acidification and human toxicity have only a minor share to the total environmental impacts per inhabitants in Germany. Consequently, the optimisation of the latter environmental impacts should only be pursued if the primary function of the sewage treatment and related impacts on surface waters are not compromised by these measures. In scenario analysis, both the addition of co-substrates and the thermal hydrolysis of sludge for improving the anaerobic degradation into biogas have a substantial positive effect on the energy balance and carbon footprint without impairing other environmental impacts. Based on the results of the pilot trials in CoDiGreen, the current energy demand can be reduced up to 80% by a combination of adding ensiled grass into the digestor and hydrolysis of excess sludge (potentials have to be verified in full-scale trials). A twostep digestion process with intermediate dewatering and hydrolysis (DLD configuration with EXELYS™) seems promising in terms of energy benefits and carbon footprint. The recovery of nitrogen or phosphorus from the sludge liquor of dewatering does not result in major benefits in the environmental profile, whereas the implementation of an ORC process for energy recovery from excess heat can be fully recommended from an environmental point of view.

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