Decreasing the Energy Use in Wastewater Treatment

EPA Grant Number: SU839330
Title: Decreasing the Energy Use in Wastewater Treatment
Investigators: Lampert, David , Lampert, David
Institution: Oklahoma State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: November 1, 2017 through October 29, 2018
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , P3 Awards , P3 Challenge Area - Water


Wastewater treatment plants consume 3% of the total electricity in the United States. This study aims to develop controls to reduce energy consumption in aeration processes at wastewater treatment plants. Aeration processes stimulate microbial degradation of organic matter in the wastewater, which is needed before it can be safely discharged. Because wastewater treatment plant operators have little incentive to reduce the energy usage in aeration processes, they tend to oversupply oxygen and waste energy. An automated control approach would allow operators to meet pollutant discharge limits without wasting energy. The problem of excess energy consumption in these facilities is particularly pervasive in rural areas where operational budgets are limited. Energy efficiency is an essential component of sustainability of people and the planet. The proposed project will enhance the sustainability of wastewater treatment and educate three students on the challenges associated with energy-water nexus through their participation in the design process. The study will also provide important educational benefits to the stakeholders at the City of Stillwater who operate the treatment plant.


The overall goal of the proposed project is to develop a cost-effective approach to enhance energy efficiency in wastewater treatment plants by supplying the optimal amount of aeration needed to meet treatment regulations. The specific technical aims of the project are to: (1) construct a lab-scale experiment to analyze the relationships between critical biological process parameters including dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, and aeration; (2) build a simple, automated process control to adjust aeration inputs as oxygen and organic levels fluctuate; (3) simulate the lab-scale results using a mathematical model that can be extended to the full-scale facility; and (4) assess the potential energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and cost savings associated with this design using life cycle analysis. The combination of the model and the controls can supply the optimal amount of aeration to wastewater before it is discharged, which will reduce energy consumption in wastewater treatment and enhance the sustainability of energy and water.

Expected Results:

The expected results of the proposed study are to construct a prototype of an automated process control for aeration of wastewater with the potential for extension to larger scales that can be applied elsewhere in Oklahoma and beyond. Success will be evaluated based on the potential of the tools to reduce primary energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and cost savings relative to the existing conditions. A demonstration of the efficacy of the process controls will be performed in a laboratory setting using sewage from the facility, and the capabilities of the simulation tool will be compared with observed performance of the facility to validate the model performance.

Supplemental Keywords:

treatment technologies, energy efficiency, life cycle analysis, industrial ecology, computer models, monitoring resource consumption, sustainable water management

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final