A ‘Green’ Way to Clean Wastewater
Imagine all the water existing in all the rivers across the world. That volume is only one-sixth of the 1,500 cubic kilometers of wastewater that the world’s population produces each year. It takes a huge amount of energy to process wastewater, but GE and Masdar are piloting a solution that’s not only energy efficient but energy neutral.
In developing countries, as much as 90% of wastewater goes untreated, exposing people and the environment to enormous harm. Approximately 2 million people die every year because of sanitation-related diseases.
Part of the reason so much wastewater goes untreated is the steep cost, driven to a large extent by how much energy is required to run treatment plants. That’s because the water must be processed in many different ways, requiring extensive use of pumping. And that takes a lot of electricity.
GE and Abu Dhabi sustainability and renewable energy company Masdar have teamed up on a world-first project to create an energy-neutral wastewater treatment plant. They will integrate GE Water’s new ZeeLung Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR), GE-owned Monsal’s anaerobic digestion technology, and GE Jenbacher gas engines together with Masdar’s state-of-the-art bioreactor to create a process that could represent a new future of energy-neutral wastewater treatment plants.
Partnering on this project, Masdar and GE have “created a real game-changer in the world of wastewater treatment. We will combined specialized technologies from different GE businesses to not just create a system that uses less energy, but one that’s totally energy neutral,” explains Marwan Al-Roub, Executive Director of the GE Ecomagination Innovation Center at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
Together, these technologies have the potential to transform energy-hungry wastewater treatment plants into resource recovery centers that yield clean water and renewable energy as outputs.
A critical stage in the wastewater process is when the wastewater is moved into huge tanks where powerful pumps push oxygen through it. In this stage, bacteria breaks down toxic nutrients and organics into more benign compounds.
To lower energy use at this stage the revolutionary ZeeLung aerating membrane – developed at GE’s Global Research Center for GE Water – will be used to distribute air in the treatment tanks. This fibrous membrane is five times more efficient at aerating wastewater and needs much less powerful pumps than conventional membranes.
Next, the suspended solids will be separated from the liquids, producing a thick sludge that will be placed in a no-oxygen environment inside Masdar’s state-of-the-art bioreactor. As the bacteria consumes the sludge, methane will be produced as a byproduct. Because of the higher-quality sludge produced by the ZeeLung and the well-built bioreactor, the whole process will produce considerably more methane gas.
This methane will then be piped to an extremely efficient GE Jenbacher gas engine, produced by GE Distributed Power, to generate all the electricity the system needs.
So, not only will the plant produce a lot more methane fuel, but it will use as much as 50% less energy than the conventional method.
Then, on top of all these systems, the final step toward net-zero energy will be the use of the GE Predix software platform that knits together industrial equipment, large amount of data from that equipment, and powerful analytics to identify areas to improve efficiencies and operations across the plant.
Creating an industrial solution that pulls together technologies, software and equipment from so many different sectors and specializations “into one energy-neutral system is really only something GE can do,” Al-Roub says.
The company’s ability to achieve this represents the power of the “GE Store.” This concept reflects the unique ability of every business within GE, across every country in which it operates, to share and access all the technology, markets, structure and intellect existing within the global organization.
Al-Roub and the region’s talented comedian Wonho Chung explain this revolutionary energy-neutral wastewater plant in an engaging short video that is part of the GE Store series.