Green energy expansion for North East water company

A high-tech test facility which uses heat to capture ammonia from sewage, ready to turn into green fuels, is now up and running in the North East.

Earlier this year, Northumbrian Water announced that it had taken delivery of a purpose-built advanced ammonia stripper and recovery system – a small-scale treatment plant which would be trialled at the company’s existing Howdon Sewage Treatment Works in North Tyneside.

The project, in partnership with environmental technology company, Organics Group, would see thermal energy strip and recover the ammonia from wastewater – the first time in the world that a water company has ever recovered ammonia using a thermal technique in this way.

The recovered ammonia product could then be used to generate fertiliser products and green fuels that may be used in the emerging hydrogen economy.

Since the ground-breaking piece of kit arrived in the UK back in March, work has been ongoing to get it up and running, and a testing programme is now in full swing, with the facility already recovering 95% of a high strength ammonia product.

Ammonia is present in wastewater through the natural breakdown of proteins and is a building-block used widely in the production of valuable chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals, fertiliser products and green fuels.

Removing ammonia will also have a number of benefits for Northumbrian Water’s wastewater treatment process, making it more efficient by reducing overall energy demand, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately helping to keep customer bills as low as possible.

By minimising emissions from the biological treatment process, it will also help to accelerate the company towards its ambitious net zero goals.

Angela MacOscar, Head of Innovation at Northumbrian Water, said:

“This is a very exciting project which we’re all thrilled about developing further.

“To be the first, not just in the water industry, but in the world, to use this bespoke technology is incredible and testament to our commitment to improve the environment and drive us even further on the road towards net zero.

“As a business we have been supporting a circular economy for many years by generating renewable energy, recycling sludge to land and maintaining a healthy water cycle. This is the next stage of our continual journey to maximise our resource efficiency.”

The idea to develop a thermal ammonia stripper plant at Howdon first won a £225,000 funding bid from water regulators, Ofwat, back in 2021.

Now that the equipment is in commission, work is continuing to optimise it and collate data to be used in the design of full-scale plants, which could be installed as part of future upgrades at Howdon, or Northumbrian Water’s Bran Sands treatment works on Teesside.

Dr Robert Eden, Managing Director of the Organics Group, said:

“We are delighted to be part of the Northumbrian Water team on this world first. This project builds constructively on 25 years of extensive experience that Organics has with ammonia recovery systems.

“The technology is designed to provide water companies with a cost-effective alternative to conventional denitrification systems, and will generate opportunities, not only for ammonia-based products but also for enhanced decarbonisation of the global water sector.”

Northumbrian Water is leading the project, in partnership with Organics Group, Anglian Water, Cranfield University, Warwick University, and the consulting engineer WSP.

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