Environmental impacts of resource recovery from wastewater treatment plants

Xiaodi Hao, Xiangyang Wang, Ranbin Liu, Shuang Li, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht, Han Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Conventional wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) clean wastewater and minimize water pollution; but, while doing so, they also contribute to air pollution and need energy/material input with associated emissions. However, energy recovery (e.g. anaerobic digestion) and resource recovery (e.g. water reuse) allow us to offset the adverse environmental impacts of wastewater treatment. Life cycle assessments (LCA) have been used more and more to evaluate the environmental impacts of WWTPs and to suggest improvement options. There is a need to search for resource recovery applications that genuinely realize a net-zero impact on the total environment of WWTPs. In this work, a scheme with highly efficient energy and resource recovery (especially for thermal energy) is proposed and evaluated. The environmental impact of a conventional WWTP in comparison with the scheme proposed here, with energy/resource recovery included, was calculated, and discussed with reference to LCA methodology. In the process of using LCA, it was necessary to choose a regional situation to focus on. In this case, a Chinese situation was focused as a reference, but the qualitative information gained is of worldwide relevance. The results clearly revealed that conventional WWTP does not benefit the total environment as a whole while the new scheme benefited the total environment via resource/energy recovery-based processes. Among others, thermal energy recovery played a significant role towards a net-zero LCA analysis (contributing around 40%) which suggests that more attention and research should be focused on it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-277
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Environmental impacts
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Net-zero impact
  • Resource recovery
  • Thermal energy
  • Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs)

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