Sludge digestion instead of aerobic stabilisation – a cost benefit analysis based on experiences in Germany

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As a consequence of a worldwide increase of energy costs, the efficient use of sewage sludge as a renewable energy resource must be considered, even for smaller wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) with design capacities between 10,000 and 50,000 population equivalent (PE). To find the lower limit for an economical conversion of an aerobic stabilisation plant into an anaerobic stabilisation plant, we derived cost functions for specific capital costs and operating cost savings. With these tools, it is possible to evaluate if it would be promising to further investigate refitting aerobic plants into plants that produce biogas. By comparing capital costs with operation cost savings, a break-even point for process conversion could be determined. The break-even point varies depending on project specific constraints and assumptions related to future energy and operation costs and variable interest rates. A 5% increase of energy and operation costs leads to a cost efficient conversion for plants above 7,500 PE. A conversion of WWTPs results in different positive effects on energy generation and plant operations: increased efficiency, energy savings, and on-site renewable power generation by digester gas which can be used in the plant. Also, the optimisation of energy efficiency results in a reduction of primary energy consumption.

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