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.