A Change in Outlook

With global population growth, a trend towards urbanization and the increase of consumption in emerging markets, means that key resources are becoming scarcer. This trend has been appearing for some time. An indication are the rising energy prices, for example.

It is likely that natural resources will become scarcer and consequently more expensive. This is of concern for the phosphate reserves. According to experts, phosphorous reserves will be depleted, depending on the development scenario, in 60-130 years. Since phosphorus is a fundamental nutrient for plant growth, a deficiency will lead to a corresponding food production shortage.

Drinking water resources are already a scarce commodity in many regions of the world. About one billion people currently lack access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people lack access to sanitation facilities. This will worsen in the coming years because in addition to increases in demand, the available water sources are also being increasingly polluted.

In Germany, we face different challenges: For years we have seen a decline in the demand for potable water. This is attributed to numerous technical innovations such as washing machines which use less water. The decrease in the demand means that reliable sewer systems are not running at the intended flow rates. Take Hamburg for example. Due to its size, the Hamburg sewer network needs a constant flow of water to carry the discharged wastewaters to the sewage treatment plant. If the demand for potable water continues to decline - which it is assumed to do - the sewer network must then be artificially rinsed to avoid unpleasant smells arising to the street from the system.

The water supply and sanitation systems are also influenced by demographic changes. For example, the proportion of elderly people in the population is growing. This demographic group is associated with higher drug consumption. As this sub-population increases, so does the load of pharmaceutical residues in the wastewater. These so-called micro-pollutants pose a problem because they are very difficult to remove.
Environmental changes on a local and global scale mandate new thinking. It is important to develop new technologies that exhibit a sustainable approach to dealing with energy, nutrients and water. To meet this goal, HAMBURG WASSER has developed with the HAMBURG WATER Cycle®, an innovative concept with integrated water handling and energy production. This concept will be implemented in a pilot project in the city of Hamburg. This project demonstrates that an energy-independent wastewater treatment with recovery of vital nutrients is possible in the urban context.