Water Industry Journal

Northumbrian Water fuels world-first in green energy expansion

A ground-breaking piece of equipment which will capture ammonia from sewage and turn it into ammonia products – and potentially green fuel – has arrived at Northumbrian Water’s Howdon Sewage Treatment Works.

When the pilot thermal ammonia recovery facility is fully operational, it will be the first time in the world that a water company has ever recovered commercial-quality ammonia from wastewater using this technique.

Ammonia, which is generated by the natural breakdown of proteins and amino acids in wastewater, is a widely used building-block for valuable chemicals. For example, it is used in the production of fertiliser or pharmaceuticals or used as a precursor to green fuels.

The pioneering Ammonia Recovery project, in partnership with Organics Group, successfully won a £225,000 funding bid from the first ever Ofwat Innovation Fund in 2021.

Since then, work on the project has rapidly progressed over the last two years with a high-tech facility purpose-built at the Organics factory in Thailand.

Now on site in the UK, the facility will use patented innovative technology to strip and capture the ammonia from wastewater when commissioned, generating fertiliser products and green fuels that may be used in the emerging hydrogen economy in future.

Removing ammonia will also have a number of benefits for Northumbrian Water’s wastewater treatment process, making it more efficient by reducing overall energy demand, minimising emissions from the biological treatment process and ultimately helping to keep customer bills as low as possible. It will also accelerate the company towards its ambitious goal of achieving net zero in 2027.

The Howdon site, in North Tyneside, already creates green power using Advanced Anaerobic Digestion and Gas to Grid technology. These processes are also in place at the company’s Bran Sands treatment works on Teesside and make Northumbrian Water the only water company to use 100% of its wastewater sludge, previously a waste by-product of treatment, in this way.

Angela MacOscar, Head of Innovation at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “We are extremely excited by the Organics Ammonia Recovery project. To have the equipment physically on site and in the process of being installed marks a significant step forward, not just for us but for the UK and the entire water sector.

“This pilot project is going to have a massive environmental impact, drive us towards our net zero targets, and ultimately contribute to the Government’s green gas and renewable fuel agenda. We’re very excited to see the benefits of this project for our customers and the environment.”

Dr Robert Eden, Managing Director of the Organics Group, said: “We are delighted to be part of the Northumbrian Water team on this world-first. This project builds constructively on 25 years of extensive experience that Organics has with ammonia recovery systems.

“The technology is designed to provide water companies with a cost-effective alternative to conventional denitrification systems, and will generate opportunities, not only for ammonia-based products but also for enhanced decarbonisation of the global water sector.”

Northumbrian Water is leading the project, in partnership with Organics Group, Anglian Water, Cranfield University, Warwick University, and the consulting engineer WSP.

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