Beyond Energy Balance: Environmental Trade-Offs of Organics Capture and Low Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio Sewage Treatment Systems

Valeria I. Alvarado, Shu Chien Hsu, Chor Man Lam, Po Heng Lee

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Several life-cycle assessments (LCAs) have evaluated the environmental impacts (EIs) of different wastewater treatment (WWT) configurations, attempting resource recovery and energy efficiency. However, a plant-wide LCA considering up-concentration primary treatment and low carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio sewage at the secondary biological treatment (SBT) has not yet been conducted. This study identifies the environmental trade-offs and hotspots for the chemically enhanced primary treatment (CEPT) and low C/N ratio SBT emerging processes compared to conventional WWT. The life-cycle inventories were calculated using a stoichiometric life-cycle inventory framework that couples stoichiometry and kinetics to obtain site-specific water, air, and soil emissions. The midpoint results of LCA show that CEPT with anaerobic digestion (AD) for sludge treatment achieves energy self-sufficiency, but increases marine eutrophication (MEu) by 1 order of magnitude compared to conventional WWT. A mainstream anaerobic fluidized-bed bioreactor and a partial nitritation-anammox fluidized-bed membrane bioreactor which can reduce all environmental impacts by 17-47%, including MEu, are proposed as the SBT of the low-carbon CEPT settled sewage. Integrating the standardized S-LCI framework resulted in a site-specific LCA that aids decision-makers on choosing between higher reductions in most EIs at the expense of high MEu or less but consistent reductions in all EI categories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4746-4757
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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