4 March 1999

Intelligent software makes wastewater treatment plants more efficient

University of Queensland researchers have helped develop a state-of-the-art software system to drive biological waste water treatment plants.

According to project manager Dr Paul Lant, from the University's Advanced Wastewater Management Centre (AWMC) in the Chemical Engineering Department, the program's computer-based models and control strategies will improve effluent quality and effective capacity of waste water treatment plants.

"These will lower operational costs, improve environmental performance and enable increased treatment capacity for new or existing plants, thus saving governments and industry millions of dollars," he said.

The system, called the Process Manager, is one of three products to emerge from a $3.5 million collaborative waste water research program led by the AWMC.

The program's other partners are the New South Wales Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC), Monash University and Sydney Water Corporation (SWC).

The program began in 1995 to develop new technology to improve the functioning of waste water treatment plants. The three prototypes will be tested at SWC plants throughout 1999 and commercially available by next year.

The project was funded by a $1 million Industry Research and Development Board of the Department of Industry, Science and Tourism grant. Additional expenses were met by SWC and the New South Wales Department of Land and Water Conservation.

The three-year project combines the expertise of the AWMC in advanced process control and Monash University Water Studies Centre's work in on-line instrumentation as well as the process expertise of the two industry partners.

Tighter government legislation has seen the number of biological nutrient removal (BNR) waste water treatment plants in Australia grow from five in 1994 to more than 40 in 1999. The plants use bacteria to remove pollutants from waste water including carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen.

Left in waste water, these elements can severely damage the environment causing outbreaks of blue-green algae and other problems in the nation's waterways.

Nutrients from sewage treatment and industrial plants and urban and agricultural run-off were recently identified as a major problem in the interim scientific report of the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay Waste Water Management Study. The study's advisory panel scientific chair is the University of Queensland's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Paul Greenfield.

Project manager and AWMC researcher Dr Paul Lant said the Process Manager continually monitored plant operations, detecting any problems and automatically devising solutions.

"Currently there is too much data for engineers to regularly monitor to detect process problems," he said.

"The software can be tuned to detect any kind of processing problem or abnormality in plants. It's fast and efficient and will speed up recovery times from any upsets. It's like having an expert on site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

The other products developed as a part of the project include Model-Based Control and On-Line Analysers. The analysers rapidly and reliably measure key components in the biological nutrient removal process such as nitrate, ammonia, reactive phosphorous and volatile fatty acid.

The Model-Based Control system collects data from the analysers and recommends more efficient uses of chemicals and power. In this way, the plant can consistently be run at full capacity leading to better effluent quality.

University Chemical Engineering Department colleagues involved in the project are researcher and leader of the industry technology team Dr Bob Newell, postdoctoral research fellow Dr Ashraf Islam and research assistant Jeffrey Bailey.

Dr Islam and Mr Bailey have now been employed by SWC to assist with the full-scale implementation of the technology.

For more information, contact Dr Lant (telephone 07 3365 4728).