By Peter Chawaga
It’s very possible that the term “wastewater treatment plant” will soon be obsolete, replaced by “water resource recovery facility.” This will be a bit of an inconvenience for many of us, not the least for Water Online, which will have much rephrasing and updating to do on its homepage.
That would be a wholly welcomed chore if it means that our industry is going from merely treating wastewater to recovering the resources that exist there.
Of course, it’s much too early to begin planning for such tedious updating. At this point, the technology for resource recovery simply isn’t advanced enough and adoption isn’t widespread enough to anticipate a full industry conversion. But a critical first step to overcome those obstacles has been taken.
In its latest effort towards advancing resource recovery, The Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF)1 has assembled a network and directory of water resource recovery test beds: 46 facilities across the country that are willing and able to run pilots for researchers and technology providers.
“It is hoped that this network will assist in the developing and piloting of technology at various scales to help manage risk and accelerate the adoption of innovation,” said WE&RF Technology and Innovation Manager Dr. Aaron Fisher. “It is specifically situated to help innovative technology — spanning the ‘valley of death’ between laboratory research and commercial profitability — by bringing together key stakeholders and strategic partners.”
Technology developers have used the network to identify facilities capable of testing their work and points of contact at those facilities. Laboratories and wastewater treatment plants are interested in joining the network because of the role they can play in advancing the industry’s resource recovery capabilities.
“Many organizations have independently arrived at a conclusion of the need for a test bed to pilot innovative technologies,” said Dr. Fisher. “Having set up their single facility, they are looking to connect with the broader community. The water resource recovery network provides that, helping to extend beyond local or state boundaries.”
It is this boundary-diffusing spirit that fuels the program, as it has so many scientific collaborations in the past. An online map of the network shows participants from Seattle to Tampa and Carlsbad to Ontario, a geography that aims to speed up the creation and adoption of new technology.
“The North American footprint of the network hopes to streamline acceptance of pilot testing data by different regulatory authorities,” said Dr. Fisher. “Ideally, a pilot test performed in California would not have to be wholly redone in New York. Those in the industry understand what technologies will be commercially available in the near future, bring in the finance community, and ultimately inform the public. It is hoped that the water resource recovery test bed network becomes a focal point in moving the industry forward.”
The network consists of four levels of facility based on their capabilities for advancing research, from research labs that can assist with bench-scale work but aren’t dedicated to piloting new technologies, to staffed facilities that are dedicated solely to research and development or piloting. Facilities that are interested in joining the network can fill out an online questionnaire to get the ball rolling.
The network is part of WE&RF’s Leaders Innovation Forum for Technology (LIFT) program. LIFT has been responsible for identifying innovative technologies in the water sector and acting as a non-governmental go-between for federal agency stakeholders. The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. EPA have all contributed expertise to the network.
WE&RF is still in the relatively early stages of building up membership in the network. In its view, the ideal new members are any facilities that are capable of piloting a third party’s technology. Fisher and his team are working on the structure of the network and actively reaching out to new stakeholders for input.
“At this very early stage of development, we have only begun to set the stage for what the network could accomplish,” said Dr. Fisher. “The effort to create this network has brought awareness to numerous isolated facilities and resources. Bringing this group together has resulted in productive discussion and synergy with regards to ongoing work.”
If the industry catches up, it may soon be time to make some updates.
1 WE&RF is the relatively new not-for-profit that was created when the Water Environment Research Foundation and the WateReuse Research Foundation merged earlier this year.