(July 12, 2011) A new study just published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that reducing nitrogen pollution generated by wastewater treatment plants can come with "sizable" economic benefits, as well as the expected benefits for the environment.
The study was authored jointly by five scientists from around the U.S.: James Wang of NOAA's Air Resources Laboratory and formerly of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); Steve Hamburg, Chief Scientist for EDF; Kartik Chandran of Columbia University's Engineering School; Donald Pryor of Brown University; and Glen Daigger of CH2M Hill, a global environmental engineering firm based in Englewood, Colorado.
The study found that adding available technology to the existing infrastructure at a common type of wastewater treatment plant could create a trifecta of reductions in aquatic nitrogen pollution, greenhouse gas pollution, and energy usage. It also found that creating an emissions crediting system for the wastewater treatment sector could make the addition of new technologies much more affordable.
"Our study shows that there's a win-win-win situation out there waiting to be realized," said James Wang, the chief author of the paper. "The creation of an emissions trading market could provide the needed incentive for wastewater treatment plants to adopt technologies that would reduce climate pollution, help clean up our waterways, and even save energy and money."
The majority of wastewater treatment plants already have systems to reduce ammonia levels in effluent, but pay relatively little attention to overall nitrogen pollution reduction, especially in the form of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas. Using emissions credits to address the problem could create an economic incentive of up to $600 million per year for U.S. plants to reduce nitrogen pollution, with the added benefit of up to $100 million per year in electricity savings if they do so.
"Additionally, based on recent N2O monitoring studies conducted by us and research groups across the globe, it has been found that meeting wastewater treatment objectives actually decreases biogenic N2O emissions," added co-author Kartik Chandran. "Thus, designing and adopting better process technologies for improving water quality could actually have a synergistic impact on reduced N2O emissions."
You can read the full study here.
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