Fossil organic carbon in wastewater and its fate in treatment plants

  • Law Y
  • Jacobsen G
  • Smith A
 et al. 
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This study reports the presence of fossil organic carbon in wastewater and its fate in wastewater treatment plants. The findings pinpoint the inaccuracy of current greenhouse gas accounting guidelines which defines all organic carbon in wastewater to be of biogenic origin. Stable and radiocarbon isotopes (13C and14C) were measured throughout the process train in four municipal wastewater treatment plants equipped with secondary activatedsludge treatment. Isotopic mass balance analyses indicate that 4-14% of influent total organic carbon (TOC) is of fossil origin with concentrations between 6 and 35mg/L; 88-98% of this is removed from the wastewater. The TOC mass balance analysis suggests that 39-65% of the fossil organic carbon from the influent is incorporated into the activated sludge through adsorption or from cell assimilation while 29-50% is likely transformed to carbon dioxide (CO2) during secondary treatment. The fossil organic carbon fraction in the sludge undergoes further biodegradation during anaerobic digestion with a 12% decrease in mass. 1.4-6.3% of the influent TOC consists of both biogenic and fossil carbon is estimated to be emitted as fossil CO2from activated sludge treatment alone. The results suggest that current greenhouse gas accounting guidelines, which assume that all CO2emission from wastewater is biogenic may lead to underestimation of emissions. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biogenic carbon dioxide
  • Carbon footprint
  • Fossil carbon dioxide
  • Fugitive emissions
  • Greenhouse gas accounting
  • Wastewater treatment plant

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