Life cycle assessment of introducing an anaerobic digester in a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Spain

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is being established as a standard technology to recover some of the energy contained in the sludge in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) as biogas, allowing an economy in electricity and heating and a decrease in climate gas emission. The purpose of this study was to quantify the contributions to the total environmental impact of the plant using life cycle assessment methodology. In this work, data from real operation during 2012 of a municipal WWTP were utilized as the basis to determine the impact of including AD in the process. The climate change human health was the most important impact category when AD was included in the treatment (Scenario 1), especially due to fossil carbon dioxide emissions. Without AD (Scenario 2), increased emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly derived from the use of electricity, provoked a rise in the climate change categories. Biogas utilization was able to provide 47% of the energy required in the WWTP in Scenario 1. Results obtained make Scenario 1 the better environmental choice by far, mainly due to the use of the digested sludge as fertilizer.

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