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Circular Economy in Bioresources – Panel Discussion

Conference Day 1 – Tuesday 14th November

This session will include 3 short presentations followed by interactive Q&As with our expert speakers/panellists:

Dr David Tompkins, Associate Director, WSP

Circular Economy concepts became common currency a decade ago, with the publication of the butterfly diagram by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This illustrates material flows around technical and biological cycles, through the application of three key principles:

  1. Eliminate (waste and pollution);
  2. Circulate (materials at their highest economic value); and
  3. Regenerate (natural systems).

These provide a lens through which to consider the circularity of urban water cycles. At first glance the abstraction, treatment, use, treatment and return of water back to the environment might appear circular – but once wastage (e.g. leakage and demand minimisation), pollution (e.g. road run-off in combined systems and hazards in final effluent), circulation (e.g. water re-use and resource recovery) and regeneration (e.g. aquifer recharge and nature-based catchment management) are considered, the circle starts to become porous and circularity less straightforward to deliver.

This illustrates that the urban water cycle is actually a system of systems, with multiple dependencies, supply chains and feedback loops which can all impact on circularity. It also illustrates that the Circular Economy is about far more than resource recovery and waste minimisation – which tend to be the metrics by which circularity is currently considered, whether in the Water or Waste Sectors. Indeed, the UK Government’s Circular Economy Package is all about landfill diversion and recycling: regeneration doesn’t get a look in. The reality is that the Water Sector as a whole is delivering a broader range of circular outcomes – but it isn’t necessarily packaging them in this way. Consider net zero (eliminating pollution in the form of CO2e) or Biodiversity Net Gain (regenerating natural systems).

Focussing specifically on Bioresources, the CE principles prompt a raft of questions, including:

  1. Have waste and pollution been minimised during asset design and construction? For example, through Design for Manufacturing, Assembly and Disassembly (DfMAD) or Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) or the use of low carbon, renewable materials?
  2. Do we really need the asset at all? Can our required outcomes be delivered in a different way? Do we need to own centrifuges or could we pay instead for the service they perform?
  3. What about operations? For example, is polymer use optimised, are fugitive GHG emissions abated, are nutrients / other resources being recovered rather than removed or disposed?
  4. Once we have our biosolids, are we achieving best value – whether in financial or natural capital / regenerative terms? Have we considered and implemented source controls (i.e. designed pollution out of the wastewater system from which our bioresources are derived) to improve quality and maintain current markets?

Hopefully this serves to highlight that (to borrow the language used by the Water Services Association of Australia) the Circular Economy is not recycling on steroids nor just a new word for sustainability. It is instead a framework which allows us to address the climate and biodiversity crises whilst shifting to an economic approach that is viable, in all senses of the word.

I look forward to exploring some of these themes during the panel discussion.

Dr Yadira Bajon-Fernandez, Senior Lecturer in Bioresources Science and Engineering, Cranfield University

Sewage sludge treatment has certainly come a long way over the last couple of decades. Most sludge practitioners would now agree on viewing it as a resource rather than a waste product, which was certainly not obvious before. Resource recovery from sewage sludges has become an aspiration for most water utilities, aiming to bring circular economy principles to sludge treatment centres while delivering contemporary drivers of NetZero. But, what do circular economy and resource recovery mean in the context of sludge and waste treatment?

This presentation will explore how close we are on the journey of transitioning sludge treatment centres to true biorefineries, exemplifying short- and long-term opportunities and differentiating between resources and products. We will explore innovations that advance the biorefinery ambition and some that could be real game changers for the sector. And probably more importantly, we will ask ourselves: are we doing enough as a sector? And are we embracing sufficiently a systems thinking approach that can deliver business drivers while making a positive environmental impact?

Tamsyn Kennedy, Sustainability Excellence Associate, Circular Economy Lead – Research & Innovation, Scottish Water

How is Scottish Water starting to embrace the circular economy?

The way a utility does business will have to change to action this and include a wide range of issues beyond resource recovery. To be resilient and fit for the future we need to think about our waste streams, chemical and energy use and be far more considered with our construction materials and their reuse. No longer can decision making be based solely on monetary value, the cost to the environment and biodiversity has to be incorporated, as well as certainty of supply chain and markets and potential skill gaps. Due to the necessity of geography, Scotland is well on the journey with our regulator, with resource reuse, with co-digestion and small scale recovery.

This presentation will also outline Scottish Water’s areas of focus for the future.

Session Chair: Karyn Georges, MD at Isle UK

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Event Testimonials

“First and foremost the conference is an unrivalled networking event with a huge selection of key contacts from the UK water industry in attendance.”

Technical Support Manager, SNF

“Thank you for the outstanding organisation of the event. From our point of view it was just so smooth. Well done, congrats! See you next time”

International Business Development Manager, Biosolids Group, Veolia

“This was my first Biosolids conference – came away with plenty of food for thought, an insight into future strategy and technologies, and ideas to take back and implement now. Will be attending next year!”

Bioresource Production Planning Manager, United Utilities

“It was a great conference. I really like the strong presence of the UK water utilities on this event. Is certainly one of my go to events every year.”

Senior Lecturer in Bioresources Science and Engineering, Cranfield University

“Great conference, forward thinking, horizon expanding presentations.”

Technical Specialist (Sludge Processing), Yorkshire Water

“Good industry wide perspective of the challenges and new directions.”

Cost Transformation Lead, Thames Water

“This is a great opportunity to take in, in a very short time, a very good impression of where the industry is and where it’s going.”

Programme Manager, CCm Technologies

“Excellent way of understanding challenges throughout the sector with various different companies”

Treatment Works Manager, Northumbrian Water

“The Biosolids Conference is THE best conference to attend if you want to find out more about the latest innovations in the sector, to hear about the areas of interest and to meet the people doing the innovation – I recommend it regularly!”

BBSRC NIBB Network Manager, Southampton University

“Excellent event with interesting speakers and topics and extremely well organised”

European Sales Consultant, Lange Lyche Teknisk AS

“Hundreds of hours of useful research and reading distilled into two days”

Project Engineer, WEW Engineering Ltd

“Aqua Enviro continue to do a fantastic job at getting all the relevant parties together to discuss todays hot topics in Biosolids. T

he event is packed with highly valuable presentations delivered by experts in the field from all backgrounds: operations, science & research, engineering, consultancy, regulation, suppliers, etc.

The event is targeted well so it is big enough to have everyone in the room, but small enough to allow for people to network effortlesly.

This even is the highlight of the year to meet with good old friends and catch up.”

Principal Engineer, Cambi

“Cutting edge information on global trends, regulations and technologies. Great networking potential. I loved how well organized the conference was and easy to get acclimated.”

Vice President, CDM Smith

“This is certainly an annual go-to-event for me. The level of exposure that the European Bioresources and Biosolids conference gives on international priorities of the sector is outstanding.”

Senior Lecturer in Bioresources Science and Engineering, Cranfield University
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