By CST Wastewater Solutions Managing Director, Michael Bambridge
Water and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are going to have to work harder as Australia’s weather patterns turn drier with the arrival of the El Nino forecast by the Weather Bureau to be with us by the end of this year.
One of their first lines of defence against process disruption, blockages and environmental spills will be WWTP headworks comprising mechanical screens, screening compactors, grit removal systems and grit washing systems installed in municipal and industrial plants.
The challenges for WWTP’s during El Nino may include widely variable flow patterns, including extended lower flow rates bringing with them greater concentrations of solids, debris, and grit carried in the reduced volumes of inlet water. Headworks will be asked to efficiently process throughputs without clogging and environmental spills – and continue to do it with less on-site maintenance, because many local authorities today can afford fewer specialist operations and engineering staff on call or on site.
Prevention is better than downtime
Prevention is definitely better than expensive downtime. Damage or weakness is not always obvious. The first indication owners have that their wastewater plant screens need maintenance or replacement is when they fail.
If they fail, sewage, or untreated food waste, or organic and inorganic waste can seep through plant and neighbouring surroundings, including sensitive land and waterways, with potential production halts, Occupational Health and Safety cleanup risks, pointed questions directed at those responsible for preventing spills and potentially serious environmental consequences for public and private entities.
Sometimes the build-ups to these failures will extend over many years. Grit build-up, for example, particularly in local authority WWTPs, may not show up until variable flows test the screens. For industrial plants, the problem is often a result of excess solids or hydraulic loads – or it could just be simple mechanical failure somewhere in the process.
Because screening headworks get the dirtiest job of removing all the lumps, chunks, strands, and unwanted foreign objects that can foul the often expensive, settling, clarification, treatment, filtration, and energy processes that follow downstream.
Why check wastewater screens?
The inlet screens can look pretty good to the untrained eye, so the temptation may always be there to check and forget, to save a few dollars if there is no obvious problem. This set-and-forget approach can become a costly lesson for several reasons, including:
Screens do deteriorate over time
They may have a design life of many years in normal service – but regular routine service and maintenance is needed to keep them in peak operating condition. This can be particularly important in sandy areas (noting that municipal councils’ WWTPs serve more than 80 per cent of Australia’s population living within 50km of the coast. Many industrial processing plants fall within the same heavily populated areas).
Screen technology does evolve over time
What was a fine mesh screen 10 or 15 years ago, may no longer be up to the job of protecting newer processes downstream. Older, coarse screens used to remove large solids, rags, and debris from wastewater typically have openings of 6mm or larger.
Such screens are no longer up to the higher standards and performance demanded today, including removal of nanoparticles such as plastics down to 1.5mm and finer. So, for environmental reasons, it could be a matter of upgrading the screen to a finer mesh type now available or using newer technology, such as CST’s new horizontal rotary drum screen, which is specifically designed to protect downstream MBR (membrane bioreactor) plants.
Beware particularly of grit
Wastewater contains large solids and grit that can interfere with treatment processes or cause undue mechanical wear and increased maintenance on wastewater treatment equipment. To minimise potential problems, these materials require separate handling. Preliminary treatment removes these constituents from the influent wastewater. Fine screens are typically used to remove material that may create operation and maintenance problems in downstream processes, particularly in systems that lack primary treatment. Typical opening sizes for fine screens are 1.5-6mm. Very fine screens – such as those proven in Australia by CST Wastewater Solutions – have openings of 1.5mm down to 0.2mm.
Inlet pre-treatment, including screens, is a robust but finite asset we all depend on in the waste management business. The value of this asset should be maintained by regular servicing, just like a car. CST has some screens still operating after more than 25 years, because the companies involved have invested in cost-effective regular maintenance to extend product life and effectiveness.
Because screens are your front-line defence, they prevent or limit damage occurring in expensive processes downstream. These processes can be hard to get to if they do fail, then cause many more OH&S issues to rectify. Compounding the issue is the fact mentioned prior that many remote and smaller public and private waste treatment plants these days do not have the engineering manpower on hand to quickly rectify unexpected or complex and expensive events.
We know how important risk management is because we engineer and locally manufacture dozens of waste management (and waste-to-energy) processes purpose-built to minimise maintenance. The advantage of local manufacture is that the product is built to local standards (some of the best in the world, recognised internationally) for arduous local conditions. And when they do ultimately need maintenance, having achieved top lifecycle value, local manufacture means local service is available without stretched supply lines.
Most companies these days are pretty risk-aware. They know production stoppages are costly, and environmental spills can affect their statutory licence to operate. But we still do see poorly maintained plants causing issues for the operator, reasonably often.
These should be a thing of the past, when small investment in yearly maintenance and check-ups can return good value and ROI throughout the long term.
About Michael Bambridge
Michael Bambridge is Managing Director of CST Wastewater Solutions. He is a Chemical Engineer with decades of experience in waste and wastewater management throughout Australia, New Zealand and South Asia, with particular expertise in local authority and food, beverage and agricultural production.
About CST Wastewater Solutions
In addition to project planning, execution and commissioning, CST Wastewater Solutions has a dedicated full-time Services Division to the company, to complement its proven wastewater treatment, fine screening, and grit removal technologies. The company conducts annual audits of technology vital to cost- efficient, safe, and reliable processing.
The Services Division complements CST Wastewater Solutions’ engineer-and-build water and wastewater treatment and recycling packages, which are designed to lower the cost and complexity of such projects. The design, supply and install packages – incorporating global and locally manufactured technologies proven in use by some of Australia and New Zealand’s leading companies and councils – are aimed particularly at organisations seeking engineering assistance to develop clear choices and optimum solutions. The packages incorporate advanced low-maintenance technologies, which provide high levels of water purity while reducing maintenance, waste handling and OH&S issues associated with running them.
CST Screening and Grit Removal
Examples of CST’s screening and grit removal expertise include:
- Locally designed and built internally fed rotary drum screens and pre-MBR horizontal drum screens
- Smith & Loveless, for which CST is exclusive local distributor, has invested significant research and development to provide a quantum leap in grit removal, with systems that can remove 95 per cent of grit down to 105 microns, with 10:1 turndown. This is a major step up from existing grit removal systems that typically only remove grit down to 200-300 microns
- The ability to retrofit a range of technologies, like those above, to upgrade the performance and operations of existing systems
This is a sponsored editorial brought to you by CST Wastewater Solutions. For more information, visit www.cstwastewater.com.