Jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Newcastle University and Northumbrian Water, the BE:WISE facility is the largest of its type in Europe.
The facility – based at Northumbrian Water’s sewage treatment plant at Birtley, near Gateshead, will play a key role in improving how sewage is treated, by speeding up the transition from existing energy-intensive treatment processes to low carbon alternatives that have lower running costs.
The first experiments – to identify the behaviour of thousands of species of bacteria – will use wastewater from the Birtley sewage treatment plant, which receives wastewater from a population equivalent of around 30,000 people. This wastewater will only have been through primary treatment which removes solids, rags and grit. Sewage treatment plants contain a varied assortment of trillions of bacteria that break down and treat wastewater. However, the costs and uncertainty involved in scaling up lab research to application in a real-world setting has meant that there has been little change in the main technologies used to manage the wastewater treatment process.
Operating as a ‘mini’ sewage treatment works, the BE:WISE facility will be available to academics and other researchers from around the world to allow them to test innovations in wastewater treatment technologies. Experiments at the BE:WISE facility can be run using 10,000 times more microbes than can be used in the laboratory, providing researchers with a realistic, large-scale setting to better understand how complex biological interactions work at different scales. It will allow them to test and replicate different elements of the wastewater treatment process, so that new ways to treat wastewater can be developed with greater confidence.
The facility will consist of replicated transportable custom-built modular water treatment plants at the m3 scale, comprising: 2 x activated sludge plants, 2 x trickling filters, 2 x low temperature anaerobic reactors, 3 x microbial electrochemical fuel cells, and 2 x wetlands/lagoons with instrumentation and control, and an equipped laboratory.