IWA Publishing

A greenhouse gas source of surprising significance: anthropogenic CO2 emissions from use of methanol in sewage treatment

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The impact of methanol (CH3OH) as a source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) in denitrification at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) has never been quantified. CH3OH is the most commonly purchased carbon source for sewage denitrification. Until recently, greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting protocols consistently ignored the liberation of anthropogenic CO2 attributable to CH3OH. This oversight can likely be attributed to a simplifying notion that CO2 produced through activated-sludge-process respiration is biogenic because most raw-sewage carbon is un-sequestered prior to entering a WWTP. Instead, a biogenic categorization cannot apply to fossil-fuel-derived carbon sources like CH3OH. This paper provides a summary of how CH3OH use at DC Water's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP; Washington, DC, USA) amounts to 60 to 85% of the AWTP's Scope-1 emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency and Water Environment Federation databases suggest that CH3OH CO2 likely represents one quarter of all Scope-1 GHG emissions attributable to sewage treatment in the USA. Finally, many alternatives to CH3OH use exist and are discussed.

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