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IWC students challenge current patterns of water, energy and nutrient use in cities

As more than half the global population now call the urban environment home, ensuring the sustainability of water-dependent services, including water supply and food and energy generation to urban areas, is crucial. We need to reduce the linear flow of water, material resources and energy, through promoting technologies and practices that achieve recovery, re-use and demand reduction.

In pursuing this goal, ten IWC Master of Integrated Water Management participants, from a range of water utilities and elsewhere across Australia including Water Corp, Wannon Water, Melbourne Water, Unity Water and SEQ Water, recently spent 2½ days learning how to make the water, food and energy systems that service our cities more sustainable and resilient.

This session was the face-to-face intensive part of the module Urban Metabolism: Resource and Energy Recovery Systems, which is delivered using a blended approach of face-to-face and online teaching.

The participants learned about the direct and embedded (or virtual) flows of water, food and energy in our cities. They evaluated the sustainability of those flows and ways that our cities might become more resilient to external resource or economic changes by recovering and recycling water, nutrients and energy. 

They learned how different elements of our urban water systems use energy, and where the biggest 'bang for the buck' opportunities lie for reducing water-related energy and recovering energy from water systems. Mass balance modelling was offered as a key technique for characterising and assessing the feasibility of recovery and recycling approaches at different scales and the functioning of different water recycling and nutrient (N, P and organic matter) recovery approaches and technologies. 

Participants visited City Food Growers' urban farm and urban farming training centre in Samford, Brisbane and discussed how stormwater, rainwater and recycled wastewater might play a role in supplying the farm as it grows.

They also visited Wynnum WWTP to see how water recycling technology can play an important role in taking heavy industrial water users off the grid by supplying them with water recycled from municipal wastewater.

At the plant, participants learned about the process technologies involved, including the MFRO plant, and discussed the opportunities at different scales for using water recycling in engineering and commercial terms, and how to cost-effectively recover and reuse biosolids and recovered P in the form of struvite.

IWC's Master of Integrated Water Management offers the Urban Metabolism: Resource and Energy Recovery Systems module as part of its Urban water specialisation stream. Viewing urban areas as systems that ‘metabolise’ resource inputs, ultimately releasing them back to the environment as wastes, this module challenges current patterns of water, energy and nutrient use in cities as inefficient and unsustainable.

Emphasis is placed on water, with coverage of technologies and management approaches to manipulate water flow in urban systems to improve ‘metabolism’ by reducing raw water intake and recovering and using the resources that wastewater carries, particularly energy, nitrogen and phosphorous.

The module equips participants to critically assess the resource efficiency and sustainability of urban systems from household through development to whole city scales, to systematically quantify physical flows in complex urban systems, and to construct and use urban metabolism models to characterise and evaluate options for improving urban sustainability.

The module is delivered by Dr. Steven Pratt, IWC Senior Lecturer in Integrated Water Cycle Engineering at The University of Queensland (UQ) School of Chemical Engineering, Dr. Steven Kenway, Water-Energy-Carbon Research Group Leader at UQ Advanced Water Management Centre, and Dr. Brian S. McIntosh, Senior Lecturer in Integrated Water Management at IWC.

For more information about the Master of Integrated Water Management please visit: www.watercentre.org/education/programs. Full-tuition scholarships are currently available with applications closing on 1 October for domestic students.

 

*Article first published in Water Journal August 2014 edition.

 

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