Cities, Technology & innovation, Wastewater treatment

Wastewater treatment: How can Digital Twin modelling play a crucial role in WWTP operations?

Digitalisation is a term and process that is frequently stumbled upon in business settings. At its core, one could argue that digitalisation refers to the use of digital technologies to provide new valuable and important opportunities. But how does digitalisation play a role in the operation of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs)? Which positive impacts can digitalisation have on the Water Industry?

As an outcome of digitalisation emerges the concept of the Digital Twin. In short, a Digital Twin is a virtual replica of a physical system, process or product. In this virtual world, wastewater treatment operators can simulate operational scenarios in real-time to see how they impact processes, treatment plant capacity and output water quality in the physical world. Therefore, Digital Twins tackle operators’ challenges by optimising operational performance, addressing important environmental factors and helping WWTPs to better comply with regulations.

The fundamental challenges of wastewater treatment plant operators

According to the United Nations, an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in cities and urban areas by 2050. Existing wastewater treatment plants in cities were designed years ago and the increasing urban population will put older systems under massive pressure – leaving wastewater treatment operators with several challenges in their daily efforts to find solutions. Overall, WWTP operators’ major challenges can be described as:

  • Keeping the operating expenses (OPEX) such as energy and chemical consumption to a minimum
  • Running a stable WWTP to continuously ensure that no spills of untreated wastewater run in to rivers, lakes or the sea in order for water utilities to avoid being penalised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Efficiently reporting to the authorities that the WWTP operates within wastewater treatment standards
  • Being able to automate parts of the operation that enables the WWTP to run with as little human interaction as possible

By taking advantage of the opportunities that Digital Twins provide, operators are offered more efficient ways to solve their challenges, optimise WWTP performance and manage the day-to-day operation of treatment plants.

Moving from a reactive to a proactive WWTP operation

Today, many WWTP operators have a reactive approach to wastewater treatment. Sensors might be used to collect data, but the measured data is not necessarily used to support actionable insights in real-time.

However, digital simulations and data driven technologies can help meet the WWTP operators’ major challenges by improving operational performance, lowering the CO2 footprint and reducing operational costs. This is achieved by building a virtual representation, or Digital Twin, of the physical setup in a WWTP so operators can react immediately to changes in the environment and even automate some of the vital processes, such as aeration or chemical treatment. Using a Digital Twin also increases the WWTP’s hydraulic capacity during heavy rain events. This helps to increase the effluent water quality while at the same time minimise human intervention when it comes to the day-to-day operation of the WWTP. Additionally, automated reporting can be achieved due to the data collected by continuous performance monitoring in real-time of the different processes and WWTP operational status.

By utilising Digital Twin modelling, wastewater operators can move from a reactive management strategy based on sensor data only to a more proactive operational strategy with focus on controlling the WWTP operation with the help of simulation models and data driven models. This proactive strategy allows for a more efficient operation across several aspects of wastewater treatment.

Embracing the Digital Twin and its possibilities

As digital transformation continues to evolve and impact the Water Industry, Digital Twins are continuously playing an important part by supporting wastewater treatment operators in their decision-making process to ensure stable performance of the WWTP, optimise operational processes and automate reporting of plant performance and much more.

By embracing Digital Twin modelling and all its possibilities, DHI’s vision is to keep improving capabilities of Digital Twins. This includes researching new ways to use collected data to update data driven models as well as researching Automatic Anomaly Detection to provide operators with alerts of unexpected patterns.