Maximising the green energy generated from wastewater is the focus of an innovative new project by Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) and Newcastle University, as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership.

The collaboration will help further optimise the operation of Northumbrian Water’s treatment processes, converting biogas from wastewater into biomethane, a renewable energy that can be sold and injected back into the gas grid.

This optimisation, as well as being environmentally beneficial, produces savings that can also be passed on to its customers, helping to keep Northumbrian Water’s bills low. The company currently has the lowest combined water and wastewater bills in England.

It’s one of several green energy initiatives which will help Northumbrian Water meet its target for net zero carbon emissions by 2027, an ambitious deadline much earlier than the UK water sector’s pledge for 2030, and Government’s target date for all businesses of 2050.

On large, complex sewage treatment work, generating energy from wastewater is becoming almost as important as the treatment itself. New energy recovery processes require new management techniques.

A new process optimisation method was developed during a recent successful research collaboration between senior lecturers from Newcastle University’s Chemical Engineering department, Chris O’Malley and Mark Willis, and the team at Northumbrian Water.

This research is now being extended, with the employment of a KTP Associate, Harry Laing, who will work full time on the project over the next 30 months, through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Harry will work on-site at Northumbrian Water’s wastewater facility in Howdon, to refine and embed newly developed process control systems based on the research outcomes into the company’s day to day operations.

By ensuring it runs smoothly and efficiently, and by using new modelling to predict CO2 emissions in the Advanced Anaerobic Digestion (AAD) plant, the project will maximise the value of energy sold back to the grid, and therefore the possible savings to pass back to consumers.

Chris O’Malley, Senior Lecturer, Newcastle University who was an academic lead on the project said: “The optimisation work we have been doing with Northumbrian Water Limited over the past 4 years has yielded some really interesting and exciting results and we are delighted to be able to continuing working with the company. Through this KTP we aim to help embed an advisory tool to aid process operatives at both the Howdon and Bran Sands Waste Water Treatment works which could have a significant impact in helping NWL to reach its 2027 Net-zero pledge”

Andrew Moore, Northumbrian Water’s Research Co-ordinator, said: “A real business need with significant societal and environmental challenges will be addressed for us through this Knowledge Exchange Partnership project. Developing robust control and optimisation techniques will aid our energy and carbon management and help us achieve our ambitious net-zero carbon pledge.

“The roll out to other Northumbrian Water sites has the potential to significantly change how we operate our wastewater treatment facilities, and drive significant cost and carbon savings. There is also the opportunity to develop new licensable technology for use by other companies making efficiencies across the water sector globally.”

Northumbrian Water Group is a key strategic partner of Newcastle University. The two organisations work together on innovative research projects including developing a digital replica of Newcastle’s entire water infrastructure to ensure a rapid response to events such as flooding and drought, low-carbon water treatment and student placements.