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Severn Trent to build world’s first carbon neutral wastewater treatment

  • Severn Trent to build world’s first carbon neutral wastewater treatment
    Credit: Severn Trent
  • Plans to create the world's first carbon neutral waste treatment works in Staffordshire, with investment from Ofwat’s Innovation Fund, Horizon Europe and Severn Trent. 

About the entity

Severn Trent
We were founded in 1974 as a regional, state-owned water authority based in the Midlands and responsible for water supply management, and waste water treatment and disposal.

Severn Trent has unveiled plans to create the world’s first carbon neutral waste treatment plant in Staffordshire, with work on the multi-million-pound project (almost £40 million) set to start in September. 

This ground-breaking project – which is backed by all UK and Irish water companies and international Net Zero Partnership with Aarhus Vand in Denmark and Melbourne Water in Australia – will transform a large, carbon intensive Wastewater Treatment Plant into the world’s first retro-fit carbon neutral site in Strongford.

The new ‘net-zero hub’ is being supported by the Ofwat Innovation Fund, which announced a £10 million cash injection last week. A further £0.9 million has been secured through Horizon Europe and £28 million will be invested by Severn Trent to make this ambition a reality.

For the first time, the most promising technologies will be integrated on one site to reduce and remove carbon – eradicating 34,000 tonnes of carbon per year, which is equivalent to a person flying return between London and New York, 34,500 times.  

The new hub, which is already home to advanced digestion (THP) and ‘gas to grid’ technology, has the potential to change the face of wastewater management around the world. 

Among the new processes on site is a technology from waste and water group SUEZ, called ‘Actilayer’, a novel cover for sludge plants which reduces levels of nitrous oxide, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, to low levels through the use of catalytic material and the power of sunlight.

Other projects include Cellulose Recovery from Dutch company Cirtec, which is a long-held ambition in the UK to remove toilet paper from sewage and recycle it into a valuable, sustainable material that can be used for another purpose such as insulation or in construction products.

The new hub, which is already home to advanced digestion (THP) and ‘gas to grid’ technology, has the potential to change the face of wastewater management around the world

The site will also house Digital Twin technology, which is a virtual representation of the whole treatment plant – including low carbon technologies. With the help of Atkins, Explore AI, Siemens and Xylem, this virtual world will allow Severn Trent to optimise technologies, see how they interact and automatically apply those learnings to the treatment plant. This will also reduce energy consumption at the site.

Among those working on sludge optimisation is Eliquo Hydrok with a technology to extract more biogas using a vacuum, Royal HaskoningDHV with a technology called Eyphra to optimise the digestion process and CAMBI, who are a leader in thermal hydrolysis to help minimise the need for heat through the digestion process. Together these technologies will result in a combination of methane emissions reduction, reduced natural gas consumption and the opportunity to produce additional biogas.

Based at one of Severn Trent’s biggest sites that serves Stoke-on-Trent, the hub will not only put the Midlands on the map for innovative wastewater management but will also support Severn Trent’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and protecting the environment, while creating a ‘blueprint’ for all water companies to help them achieve their net zero commitments.

Liv Garfield, CEO of Severn Trent said: “Combatting the climate emergency to protect generations to come is a challenge that requires everyone to reinvent ways of working. This commitment to create the world’s first carbon neutral hub has the possibility of changing the face of wastewater treatment worldwide. The impact of this cannot be underestimated given emissions from wastewater are 80% of our operational emissions, and the hub will solve that.   

“Coming together to share ideas and collaborating to combat climate change is key, that’s why we’re committed to sharing our carbon neutral hub’s blueprint with all other water companies, so wastewater treatment plants around the world can be retrofitted with these new technologies that we’re rolling out at scale.   

“Bringing this innovation to Staffordshire will also bring jobs and green skills, as there are even more novel technologies in the pipeline that will be tested and refined here in years to come, thanks to the investment and support from all of our partners including Ofwat’s Innovation Fund.” 

Severn Trent’s project is one of 16 solutions being awarded a share of £40 million in the water regulator’s latest innovation competition – the Water Breakthrough Challenge.

The Water Breakthrough Challenge encourages initiatives that help to tackle the biggest challenges facing the water sector, such as achieving net zero, protecting natural ecosystems and reducing leakage, as well as delivering value to society.

David Black, CEO at Ofwat, said: “The water sector has faced mounting pressure over systemic challenges related to the environment and society, while the climate around us continues to drastically change shape. That’s why we’re funding ground-breaking innovations with potential to help us save and reuse water and wastewater products, while supporting wider society.”

Dr Nerina Di Lorenzo, MD of Melbourne Water, said: “What an exciting stage of ground-breaking net zero-focused collaboration, research and innovation.

“The partnership Melbourne Water shares with Severn Trent and Aarhus Vand is already progressing a range of projects to reduce the carbon footprint of wastewater treatment plants. Further, with a technical focus on nitrous oxide emission measurement, we’re developing nitrous oxide monitoring and mitigation strategies that will help us better manage and eradicate this dangerous greenhouse gas. So, we’re already making real and measurable forward steps towards net zero.

“The insights from the Net Zero Hub will help determine and present an emissions-reducing roadmap, which can provide global benefits. I hope this will drive new technologies that attract further research and development funding to help all of us achieve our net zero goals.”

Severn Trent also secured an additional £1.3 million from Ofwat in the Water Breakthrough Challenge, for an innovative project to tackle leaks. Dark Fibre sensing has the potential to provide a rapid, reliable, and cost-effective way to detect leaks by using fibre-optic cables which are already adjacent to water mains.

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