Should wastewater treatment plants' operational mode radically change to minimize GHG emissions?

Paz Nativ, Anat Weisbrod, Ori Lahav

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


The operation of municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) invariably results in significant emission of greenhouse gases (i.e., CH4, N2O, and CO2) into the atmosphere. We propose to consider a radical change in the way municipal WWTPs are operated, with the aim of minimizing GHG emissions while recycling most of the nutrient mass. The means to this end are to reduce the WWTP energy demand while maximizing the recovery of resources (phosphorus, ammonia, methane). The suggested concept involves operating the activated sludge process at a low sludge retention time (SRT < 2 d), i.e., under conditions that maximize the heterotrophic mass yield and eliminate nitrification. The ammonia concentration that remains in the water (considering N in the excess sludge and struvite production in the sludge-dewatering supernatant line) would be separated from the WWTP effluents using a unique ion-exchange material (ZnHCF), which would be regenerated using a low-volume 4 M NaCl solution. The ammonia would be then stripped at high pH and re-adsorbed by an acidic solution for reuse as fertilizer. The high bacterial yield and lack of nitrification in the aerobic step are expected to boost methane yield 3–4-fold, induce lower oxygen consumption, and most importantly, yield much lower N2O release. An approximate energy mass balance shows the concept to merit further consideration, owing to the potential significant reduction in N2O(g) emissions and recovery of resources. Empirical work followed by LCA is required to corroborate the hypothesis presented herein.

Original languageEnglish
Article number171835
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 20 May 2024


  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Municipal WWTP
  • Nutrient recycling
  • Short sludge age
  • ZnHCF

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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