Integrating Hydrogen Production with Wastewater at QUT

Ethan Robinson 12/12/2023 Waste Management
hydrogen wastewater

In a groundbreaking study, researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have explored the dual benefits of producing hydrogen while treating wastewater.

The study, led by Rickey Donald, Dr. Fanny Boulaire, and Associate Professor Jonathan G Love, focuses on the symbiotic relationship between hydrogen fuel production and wastewater treatment processes. Their findings, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, reveal significant environmental advantages.

Rickey Donald, a PhD researcher at QUT’s Centre for Clean Energy Technology and Practices and School of Chemistry and Physics, explained the rationale behind this innovative approach. “A wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) provides the perfect setting for electrolysis-based hydrogen production,” he said. “It not only supplies the necessary water but also utilizes the oxygen, a byproduct usually considered waste, in the treatment process.”

Donald highlighted the current methods of oxygen supply in WWTPs, which involve high energy consumption. “We currently pump air into tanks to supply oxygen, similar to air stones in aquariums but on a much larger scale,” he stated.

The team proposes an alternative: using solar-powered electrolysis not only to generate ‘green hydrogen’ for fuel cells but also to produce oxygen for the bacteria in wastewater treatment.

This system, according to Donald, also addresses the fluctuating nature of solar energy and the varying oxygen needs of a WWTP.

“We can compress and store surplus oxygen produced during peak solar times for use when solar energy is unavailable,” he explained. This method not only conserves energy but also acts as a form of energy storage, akin to a large battery, enhancing the utilization of renewable electricity.

The researchers conducted extensive modelling to compare this integrated system with traditional wastewater treatment and diesel-powered buses. They concluded that the new system could potentially prevent around 2,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2031, offering better emission outcomes than merely offsetting WWTP grid electricity usage and diesel use in buses with solar PV.

Furthermore, as the electricity grid becomes greener, the benefits of using renewable electricity for hydrogen production and wastewater treatment are expected to increase significantly.

Associate Professor Love praised Donald’s extensive experience in the WWTP field, emphasizing its role in fostering impactful research. “Mr. Donald’s industry expertise significantly contributes to the WWTP industry’s shift towards net-zero emissions,” Love remarked.

He envisions this innovative approach spearheading a new industry in Australia, integrating hydrogen production in WWTPs for various domestic markets, including local heavy vehicles, chemical industries, and renewable energy needs in remote communities.

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  • Ethan Robinson

    Ethan is a content editor with a background in environmental journalism. He’s an enthusiastic home cook and collector of vintage records.

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