Jan 31, 2022

Water & Wastewater Treatment Automation Can Help Protect the Environment

Examples of how treatment plant automation is helping facilities meet environmental goals around the globe.

Automation of water and wastewater treatment plants improves environmental health around the world

People in modern society are increasingly concerned about protecting the environment for this generation and future ones. Many efforts to make associated gains center on doing things differently at the industrial level. Investing in wastewater treatment automation is one example of a choice that could make meaningful differences now and later. 

Here’s a closer look at wastewater treatment plant technologies that could help the planet. Plant managers would be wise to implement these innovations in their operations and reap the many benefits.


Safeguarding Nearby Resources

When decision-makers move forward with wastewater treatment automation, numerous factors often drive their choices. A €7.5 million upgrade of the Shannon Wastewater Treatment Plant in Ireland’s County Clare helped the facility comply with European regulations. 

The improvements happened over 16 months and included enhancements to existing automation and control systems. They also targeted other aspects of the plant, like ventilation and odor treatment. While working on the endeavors, people overseeing the project sought to utilize existing infrastructure as much as possible to minimize the associated carbon footprint. 

There was also a focus on protecting the nearby River Shannon and the surrounding community. 

“Not only will it help to safeguard local waterways, improve the water quality in the River Shannon and improve the wider environment, it will also accommodate housing and other potential developments in Shannon and the surrounding areas,” said Anthony Kavanaugh, infrastructure delivery lead for the project. “The project has modernized and improved the performance of the wastewater treatment infrastructure in Shannon, which the local community will benefit from for years to come.”

The news coverage of this development also mentioned related plans for new sewerage schemes at five sites in County Clare where untreated wastewater is discharged. That step is important for the environment, too, because this is a global problem. In the United States, wastewater treatment plants collectively process billions of gallons of water every day. Even so, about 25 times that amount goes untreated, leading to a major cause of pollution. 

Meeting Waste Disposal Mandates

Even though a manufacturer does not run a full-fledged water treatment plant, it may still need to take steps to remove contaminants, depending on what’s made at the facility. In the U.S., 65 pollutants and pollutant classes are considered toxic. Federal authorities designated 126 priorities within those groups. Manufacturers dealing with those substances must separate them so the resultant wastewater can be reused or legally disposed of in sewer systems. 

One option is to hire a service provider to remove the toxic pollutants from the manufacturing site. However, that can become costly, especially if the company’s primary business model involves making products that have those substances in them. A more feasible solution is often to have on-site machines that separate the chemicals to comply with government rules. 

Previously, even when specialized equipment did much of the work, separating the pollutants was a laborious process involving several steps. Luckily, that’s changing due to automation. Machines separate and encapsulate the contaminants and produce a dewatered sludge in minutes. 

People can then use bag filters or a dewatering table to prepare the clean liquid for release into the sewer system. Alternatively, manufacturers may choose to put it through further filtration to prepare it for other factory processes. Water that’s reused or separated from pollutants both end up helping the environment. 

Other opportunities exist for manufacturing plants to make further progress for the good of the planet. Statistics show that at least 75% of environmental managers achieve shared goals with people from other departments. If the aim is to use less energy, modern automation can help. 

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Achieving Real-Time Visibility 

Treatment plant employees that know precisely what is happening at the facility means there is a much lower risk of accidents that could harm the environment immediately or over time. When Lima, Ohio, upgraded its facility to include more wastewater treatment automation, the people involved anticipated seeing numerous benefits. 

Matt Fielder, a process control specialist who works at the plant, described some of the challenges before the upgrades happened. 

“We were using equipment from the early 1990s and control systems that were nearly 30 years old,” Fielder said. “We needed a full control system upgrade with better data insights and reporting capabilities to help us increase capacity, ease maintenance and meet the EPA requirements.”

People at the plant worked with an automation company to increase the facility’s capacity from 53 to 70 million gallons a day. However, the benefits did not end there. A remote-monitoring system now allows off-site troubleshooting and maintenance. Previously, during events like overflows into a nearby river, employees had to be on-site dealing with them. 

The system also collects real-time data and handles automated reporting. Having the associated resources lets plant managers track historical events and then examine the data to see if corrective action or safeguards have the desired effects. 

Facility managers noted there were fewer river discharges after implementing the plant upgrades. That outcome confirms the environmental benefits that go along with the other notable advantages. 

Improving Quality Control

Wastewater treatment automation can also have a favorable impact on water quality. The environment benefits when that happens. When discharged wastewater does not go through the proper quality control measures, humans and other living things often experience the associated adverse effects. 

Statistics show that the drinking-water sources for around 1.8 billion people have fecal contamination, putting those who use them at risk of serious illnesses. Plus, things can get complicated because different quality standards exist depending on the intended use for the water. 

The liquid used to clean a street does not need to meet a potable standard. However, water used in the pharmaceutical industry goes through advanced filtration due to the potential for deadly consequences from contamination. Fortunately, automation can play a significant role in ensuring plants meet the necessary quality standards to protect the environment and the planet’s inhabitants. 

In Seoul, South Korea, officials approved a long-term plan to automate water treatment and quality control with artificial intelligence (AI). The city currently has four such plants, and the goal is to convert them all into “intelligent water reuse centers” by 2030. The AI system will collect and analyze data, then automatically adjust parameters to enhance quality as needed. 

These upgrades will also relieve human burdens. The existing system requires people to sift through the data by hand and make judgment calls based on what they find. However, officials believe bringing automation into the picture will result in improved efficiency, plus better overall water quality that does not rely so much on worker interventions. 


Water & Wastewater Treatment Automation to Protect the Earth

These examples provide compelling reasons for creating a water treatment plant with fully or partially automated elements. Getting the specifics right takes time and money, but it can pay off for those who remain dedicated to the goal. Putting in the effort upfront to become educated about options is well worth work.

Due to the ongoing focus on environmental sustainability, people who work in wastewater treatment will likely have to continue proving their operations do not harm the planet. Fortunately, automation can assist with that and even show how it’s possible to help the Earth through thoughtfully chosen automated solutions.


About the author

Emily Newton is an industrial journalis, who freelancess for Water & Wastes Digest. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized.