Queensland Urban Utilities
Formed on July 1, 2010, Queensland Urban Utilities is the largest water and sewerage distributor-retailer in South East Queensland, Australia. We are jointly owned by the councils of Brisbane, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Scenic Rim, and Somerset, and are governed by an independent Board.
Our primary role is to deliver drinking water, recycled water, and sewerage services to our 1.4 million customers who reside within our 14,384km2 service area.
We have been collaborating with researchers, partnering with industry, trialling new technology, and working with our staff on a range of research activities identified in our Innovation, Research and Development Roadmap to assist in our transition to become a ‘utility of the future.
What new technologies have you been evaluating or implementing?
Waste to energy: Our staff had initially undertaken trials on alternate carbon streams in our bioreactors, using our commercial customers’ high-strength waste. This work enabled a better understanding of our commercial customers’ waste characterization. A review of our top trade waste customers then led to bench-scale testing of several waste streams to determine the potential biomethane generation. Based on these findings, further field trials have been undertaken, utilizing the existing spare capacity of our digesters, engaging in direct injection of high-strength waste into our digesters to generate biogas.
Based on the success of these trials, this initiative is set to be operationalized at our Luggage Point Sewage Treatment Plant in the first half of 2016/17, and has the potential to realize: an increase in our onsite renewable energy generation capacity by approximately 15%; annual operational savings in excess of U.S. $104,447 through reduction in electricity usage; and avoidance of 755 net tonnes (+CO2-e) of greenhouse gas emissions associated with grid electricity consumption.
What technologies are you interested in investigating?
Our current focus areas include the optimization of wastewater treatment processes to reduce operational costs, the generation and capture of biogas, and the identification of additional revenue streams.
Anammox processes: Over the past few years, we have been growing our own anammox culture. We are now at a stage where we can partner with industry to advance our understanding of the annamox sidestream processes. This low-cost nitrogen removal process will be the first carrier-based sidestream anammox process in Australia, and results to date have demonstrated high-level nitrogen removal from our raw centrate, with associated cost benefits due to reduction in ethanol dosing and energy savings. We have been growing the culture on carriers, however the full-scale system could be either carrier or non-carrier based. We are also looking to work with researchers and partners to demonstrate a mainstream process, which will further bridge our knowledge gap and hopefully inform our capital program in the future.
Renewable Energy: Queensland Urban Utilities currently has nine solar PV installations, totalling over 125kW across our rural treatment facilities. We are currently completing our largest install of 95kW at our SAS Laboratories facility, with another 140kW to be installed throughout 2016. At our major treatment facilities at Luggage Point and Oxley Creek, we operate 3.8MW of biogas cogeneration capacity, providing electricity and heat for our operations. At targeted 2015/16 performance, this will provide ~27% of our treatment electricity needs.
New technology: Queensland Urban Utilities is currently assessing the integration of battery storage to displace temporary diesel generators, and the potential of low head-high flow hydro turbines. Additionally, we are investigating the feasibility of upgrading our treatment plant biogas to Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), which could be used to fuel our vehicle fleet, reducing both operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Biofuels: In an Australian first, we recently established ‘energy crop’ farms at our Toogoolawah and Boonah Sewage Treatment Plants, which involved planting 5,800 Pongamia plants, complete with custom irrigation systems. These trials are expected to reduce effluent discharged to the environment by irrigating the ‘energy crops’ with treated effluent, and offset our fossil fuel dependency by harvesting the seeds to produce bio-fuel. It is estimated that four hectares of plants could yield 12,000L of biodiesel every year, which is enough to run around 24 fleet vehicles. The crop farms will also provide a droughtproof source of water to help maximise the trees’ annual seed yields and diversify land use in regional areas.
What are your facility drivers/needs?
Queensland Urban Utilities has developed an Innovation, Research and Development Roadmap to ensure our efforts align to the business’ current and future needs.
The key focus areas enable a baseline level of activities, which reduce cost and increase revenues. These activities include optimization of treatment plant processes, more efficient sewerage networks and equipment, adopting greener energy alternatives, enhanced product and reliability, and more customized customer services.
Undertaking these activities enables a transition to more environmentally sustainable activities such as resources recovery, alternate uses for effluent reuse, and the generation of non-core revenue products and services. The focus areas have been ‘staircased’ to provide a springboard from environmentally sustainable activities to achieve enhanced social and community well-being outcomes at the lowest long-term community costs.
To move us closer to becoming a utility of the future, we are currently collecting the thoughts of all 1,500 Queensland Urban Utilities employees, which will ultimately assist our business leaders to develop an appropriate direction that will benefit our communities, customers, staff, and stakeholders.
How has LIFT helped, or how would you like LIFT to help your facility?
Back in 2013, Queensland Urban Utilities started to utilize the LIFT survey mechanisms as a way to inform its own research and development program. This survey request was a catalyst to begin a review on our existing program, and to inform our approach into the future. This initial review led to a re-alignment of our wastewater research activities with the tier-one LIFT focus areas.
Following this approach, the next review enabled a roadmap to be developed that was underpinned by the LIFT activities and looked to leverage towards more sustainable catchment-based solutions.
The circulation of the Water Resources Utility of the Future: A Blueprint for Action paper also triggered much discussion and eventually led to a small working group undertaking a more detailed review of all existing R&D-related strategies, plans, and associated activities, including our Renewable Energy Strategy, Biosolids Strategy, Energy Plans, and associated waste-to-resource initiatives
Late last year, the development of Queensland Urban Utilities’ current Innovation, Research and Development Roadmap took on a structure that aligns with the organisational strategy, and includes a number of new focus areas that look at intelligent networks, customer co-creation, digital developments to continue further capacity within the business, and the capability of staff to continue to engage in innovative collaborations.
If there were one technology you would pilot or collaborate on tomorrow, what would it be?
Ideally, we would pilot or collaborate on a technology that reduces our carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus outputs. This would be in addition to our current exploration of the use of mainstream anammox in our pursuit towards zero energy treatment. By reducing our biosolid volumes and maximizing our carbon recovery for renewable energy sources, it would move us closer towards realizing our ultimate goal of becoming energy positive.