Novel Eco-sensitive Wastewater Treatment Recovering dairy Industry Effluent NuTrientS (NEWTRIENTS)
Sustainable food production is essential if we wish to have the same quality and quantity of produce available to us in the future. Ireland has embedded an expansion of 50% increase in output from the dairy sector within its national development policy (Harvest 2020). In quantitative terms this amounts to a 2.75 billion litre increase in milk production volumes which has prompted the dairy industry to initiate programmes for increased plant processing capacities. However, full consideration must be given to sustainable management of the inevitable increase in wastewater production such an expansion will bring. In fact, consideration needs also be given to sustainable milk production, and especially sourcing of sustainable animal feeds to replace high protein feeds imported from across the globe. Consistently, a central element of the Harvest 2020 strategy is the promotion of sustainable/green technology for an Irish agri-food sector that is “innovative, efficient, and a global leader in environmentally sustainable production”.
Value-Added Dairy Wastewater Resource Recovery
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded NEWTRIENTS project at University College Cork (UCC) aims to deliver such innovation and efficiency through value added dairy wastewater resource recovery.
Dairy industry wastewater is particularly attractive as potential source of valuable resources in Ireland as it has high amounts of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus but unlike municipal wastewater it is not contaminated with pathogenic material, heavy metals or micropollutants which makes it possible to use recovered resources as potential feedstuffs.
The NEWTRIENTS process will develop two novel linked technologies for the recovery of resources from dairy industry wastewater:
- secondary treatment by acidogenic fermentation to produce bioplastics
- tertiary treatment for the production of duckweed which can serve as a high-value agricultural feed
The vision is that the bioplastic process and the duckweed process will be carried out in sequence as a replacement for existing wastewater treatment processes – the work programme will both develop and demonstrate these processes.
The ambition of the NEWTRIENTS project is to demonstrate a circular economy approach to dairy processing industry wastewater and to achieve the following objectives:
- the recovery of nitrogen and phosphorus from dairy wastewater effluents
- avoiding generation of large amounts of inorganic phosphorus sludge produced in current systems
- the production of a high value agricultural feed as a replacement for imported high protein feeds
- production of a biodegradable plastic as a replacement for fossil-fuel based plastics
- sequestration of CO2 from aerobic wastewater treatment processes
- remediation of dairy industry waste water to facilitate disposal or alternative uses
Thus, the NEWTRIENTS project develops a paradigm shift from wastewater treatment to closed loop reuse of valuable components present in the effluent with environmental and economic benefits, and to transform expensive and environmentally inefficient wastewater treatment processes into a source of revenue for the dairy processing industry.