The future of sludge…research meets reality

I spent a couple of days last week at Sludgetech 2016 – a relatively new conference aimed at providing opportunities to researchers and the ‘younger end’ of the wastewater world to share their ideas with the wider industry.  I was expecting to come away with my horizons broadened and a few new ideas in my brain – I actually came away utterly inspired!  Not a word I use lightly so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on why I think Sludgetech is making a difference in the industry.

I’m not a technical expert when it comes to sludge but I do understand how it fits into the bigger picture – and that’s the gap that this conference began to bridge.  Sludge or ‘bioresources’ as OFWAT are now defining it – has shot to the top of the pile of ‘things that interest C-suite executives’.  I would imagine that the majority of Board Directors in water companies might have struggled to tell you much about sludge 2/3 years ago – but ask them about it now and I’m pretty sure they’d be able to wax lyrical.  The recent OFWAT Water2020 Markets Consultation has forced companies to recognise the potential value in bioresources and crucially to understand the true cost of treatment.

Sludge being a ‘bioresource’ isn’t news to the technical experts, but what Sludgetech made me realise is just how much ‘resource’ there really is.  We heard about how to recover high value precious metals through to the critically limited phosphate.  We learnt about starbons and how microwave technology could treat sludge (have you ever thought about why your microwave is always small?  Microwaves can only get through 80cm of ‘stuff’ before they’re ineffective.)  We heard fantastic papers about E.Coli and why we still don’t fully understand what’s really happening inside our digesters.  We considered the challenging regulations surrounding bioresources and co-digestion with food waste and as you might expect, Brexit was mentioned a few times when considering how much shaping of our environmental practice European Directives have had over the last 30 years.

What I really took away from the conference however was how much passion and potential is out there.  There are some forward thinking companies sponsoring PhD’s and organisations like UK Water Partnership who are trying to bring ideas together and share knowledge.  Everyone was driving for the same over-riding aim – how do we get the best overall environmental benefit from this precious resource – and given some of the environmental pressures, how do we do that as quickly as possible?

I came away from Sludgetech 2016 feeling optimistic about the future for bioresources and most importantly impressed by the passion of the people driving the industry forward.

4 thoughts on “The future of sludge…research meets reality

  1. Great article – thanks for that! Seems like there’s great innovation our there, but I wonder how truly competitive the waste water industry can become with such a legacy of regulation and existing incumbents?


    • Thanks for your comment Ian. I think the regulatory changes proposed as part of OFWAT’s Water2020 plan will go some way to catalysing some change in the industry but it’s a fair challenge – it’s going to be an interesting couple of years!


      • Yeah, good to live in interesting times, isn’t it!

        By the way, did you get many insights into metal recovery at Sludgetech? I was involved in a project recently looking at recovery of metals from a legacy sediment lagoon, and found it was quite difficult to find information about the concentrations of metals needed to make a recovery project economically viable (I guess partly due to the newness of the area, but also maybe because of some propriety technology?). Do you know of any companies that specialise in this area, perhaps overlapping with the contaminated land industry?


  2. Hi Ian, there wasn’t a great deal on metals recovery that I heard. The agenda did cover nutrient recovery more extensively. The full agenda is here – might be worth having a quick look and if there’s anything of interest I’m sure the organisers could provide you with the paper. The CIWEM wastewater panel might have some ideas about who could support with metals recovery advice – or have a look at a linkedin group perhaps? If you want to ask the wastewater panel a question you can contact Alastair Chisholm ( and he’ll put it to the panel. Hope that helps.


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