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Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactors as a Treatment for Wastewater and Biogas Production at University of Massachusetts Amherst

Achieving carbon net neutrality at UMass by the year 2032 would require an unprecedented scale of renovation. However, we stand before an opportunity to set a nationwide standard in college campus sustainability. The usage of water also requires energy, as both are inextricable commodities, high in demand and often non-renewable. The central heating plant (CHP) distributes heat across the 1,400+ acre campus and consumes copious amounts of natural gas. A viable solution to relieving the dominant reliance on non-renewable energy without leaving the CHP as a stranded asset revolves around the implementation of a hybrid low temperature hot water system (LTHW) combined with an anaerobic membrane bioreactor (AnMBR). With impending urgency to meet the 2032 deadline, our research offers a hypothetical solution for this energy-water nexus. The CHP currently utilizes steam to heat the campus, whereas a LTHW system would use hot water. Distributed hot water with a temperature of 49-60℃ requires a significantly lower amount of energy to be heated (and cooled) compared to steam. Using hot water would save energy and mitigate non-renewable energy consumption, but using hot water implies the possibility of using more water than a steam heating system. In order to offset the predicted additional water consumption of a LTHW system, a deliberation of an AnMBR for municipal wastewater treatment was conducted, with the intention of recycling reclaimed water into the LTHW system with the specifications of UMass. By augmenting the LTHW system to utilize a recycled water supply, and assimilating a self-sustaining AnMBR wastewater treatment facility, the CHP will require little non-renewable energy consumption. Wastewater should not be considered a waste, as this would not fulfill the cyclical life cycle of reliably sustainable systems. An AnMBR has the potential to convert the biodegradable organic carbon in wastewater into usable energy in the form of biogas. AnMBR technology utilizes a permeable membrane lined with a mature culture of anaerobic bacteria that continuously consumes organic matter (OM) and filters other unwanted contaminants from the water, producing non-potable (for the purposes of UMass) effluent. The anaerobic bacteria, membrane composition, and mechanical configuration of the AnMBR are the primary variables that can be altered to be configured to the current Amherst wastewater treatment facility. This nascent technology could greatly decrease water and energy consumption, while allowing UMass to continue being its own self-sustaining microgrid, with the possibility of providing resources for the Amherst community as well. We can create a system that allows for renewable heating, cooling, and wastewater treatment, that is, a sustainable energy-water nexus, bringing us closer to achieving our carbon mitigation goals.
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