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When planning wastewater treatment for LMICs like Mali, success is more likely when management concerns are addressed at the beginning because most bottlenecks are managerial, not technical.

As countries strive to meet sustainable development goals, Fluence solutions can remove obstacles

In order to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, countries need to build wastewater infrastructure, however low- to middle-income countries face many challenges. Portions of their populations are still not connected to sewers, and some sewage that is collected is still being discharged into surrounding bodies of water.

Marcos von Sperling, a Brazilian professor of Environmental Engineering best known for his influential wastewater treatment textbooks and winner of the International Water Association’s 2021 Global Water Award, recently published an article that presented challenges and advice for low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) when establishing wastewater treatment.

Von Sperling recommends the following:

  • Twenty- to 30-year planning horizons that take population forecasts into account. Phased project implementation allows for making forecast adjustments in the case of inaccuracies.
  • Variations in sewage characteristics from region to region. Flows must be assessed accurately, and literature adapted specifically for LMICs should be consulted.
  • Choosing between centralized and decentralized treatment. The decision should be based on populations, topography, and network layout. Whether to discharge or reuse effluent should be decided considering environmental laws and impacts.
  • Planning the destination and treatment of sludge and biogas. Solutions should be specific to each site.
  • Developing and maintaining public goodwill. It’s important to involve surrounding neighborhoods and treat residents as partners from the beginning.

Success is more likely when management concerns are addressed at the beginning because most bottlenecks are not technical but managerial, von Sperling said.

Overcoming Obstacles to Financing and Designing Wastewater Treatment

Often in LMICs, financing is a major obstacle to establishing wastewater treatment. Fluence overcomes such obstacles with a number of financing structures, including BOO and BOOT contracts that feature construction and operation with no upfront investment.

Once financing is secured, a sequence of steps must be planned and executed. Skipping steps to save time or money may cost more of both and risk the entire project. Funding must be secured to cover all the costs of conception, design, commissioning, operation, and maintenance, and adequate time should be set aside for development of detailed conceptual studies.

Flexible design is necessary for successful operation. It should consider hydraulic, civil, electromechanical, and architectural parameters. Plants must meet design specifications with quality materials to avoid failure, and plans should only be modified when necessary and agreed upon by all parties.

Operational safety and pathogens must be considered, and a disinfection stage may be necessary.

Fluence addresses many such issues with pre-engineered units that are customized for each installation. Modular plants allow plug-and-play installation and unprecedented flexibility and scalability. Our units using MABR technology use bubble-free aeration, avoiding pathogen aerosolization.

By packaging plants in standard steel shipping containers, Fluence simplifies delivery and construction requirements. The weatherized modular plants can be scaled by adding or deleting units, which can also be moved or sold if no longer needed.

Dealing With Performance Issues

Von Sperling also talks about how LMICs can deal with performance issues. For legacy processes, patience is required to face initial performance problems. Personnel must learn procedures, and incoming loads must increase gradually during startup to allow biomass to develop. Here, Fluence’s membrane aerated biofilm reactor (MABR) technology replaces sludge with a stable biofilm, simplifying operation. Containerized Aspiral™ MABR plants are designed for remote operation, allowing personnel to operate plants by smartphone.

Maintenance infrastructure, and training and development often are lacking in LMICs, so Von Sperling recommends that staff be incentivized, and spare parts and equipment be kept at hand. In BOO and BOOT projects, however, a water treatment company assumes all maintenance duties. Fluence’s Water Management Services, for instance, can monitor, operate, and maintain plants worldwide. The customer pays for the wastewater treatment service and Fluence takes care of construction and maintenance.

Wastewater Reuse

Water reuse and resource recovery have valuable advantages, especially in arid regions. Highly treated effluent is safe for nonpotable applications from agricultural irrigation to toilet flushing.

It can be challenging for LMICs to meet regulatory standards, especially when they are copied from developed regions, however Fluence’s Aspiral™ produces effluent that exceeds the toughest wastewater reuse standards in the world, including California’s Title 22 and China’s Class 1A.

Fluence’s MABR plants are in use around the world for such treatment and reuse applications and have unique advantages for LMICs, with low energy requirements and rugged construction, as well as simplified installation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance. Contact our experts to explore the unique advantages of going modular and avoiding the many pitfalls of the traditional ground-up approach.

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