Towards energy neutral wastewater treatment: Methodology and state of the art

Han Gao, Yaniv D. Scherson, George F. Wells*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

158 Scopus citations


Conventional biological wastewater treatment processes are energy-intensive endeavors that yield little or no recovered resources and often require significant external chemical inputs. However, with embedded energy in both organic carbon and nutrients (N, P), wastewater has the potential for substantial energy recovery from a low-value (or no-value) feedstock. A paradigm shift is thus now underway that is transforming our understanding of necessary energy inputs, and potential energy or resource outputs, from wastewater treatment, and energy neutral or even energy positive treatment is increasingly emphasized in practice. As two energy sources in domestic wastewater, we argue that the most suitable way to maximize energy recovery from wastewater treatment is to separate carbon and nutrient (particularly N) removal processes. Innovative anaerobic treatment technologies and bioelectrochemical processes are now being developed as high efficiency methods for energy recovery from waste COD. Recently, energy savings or even generation from N removal has become a hotspot of research and development activity, and nitritation-anammox, the newly developed CANDO process, and microalgae cultivation are considered promising techniques. In this paper, we critically review these five emerging low energy or energy positive bioprocesses for sustainable wastewater treatment, with a particular focus on energy optimization in management of nitrogenous oxygen demand. Taken together, these technologies are now charting a path towards to a new paradigm of resource and energy recovery from wastewater.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1223-1246
Number of pages24
JournalEnvironmental Sciences: Processes and Impacts
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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