How to Bring IoT to Your Wastewater Treatment Plant

Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas

Every year, millions of tourists head to the Belliagio hotel to marvel at the iconic fountains located in front of the property. Water is sent hundreds of feet across the sky from more than 1,200 fountains, instilling a sense of admiration and bewilderment to the people who watch the show.

However, the romanticism we associate with these beautiful water arrangements is in stark contrast to the fact that much of the water used for the fountain show is treated wastewater!

And yet, water fountain spectators are not the only audience enjoying treated wastewater.

Would You Drink Wastewater?

Millions of beer lovers are also indulging in wastewater in a fun and unique way.

In 2018, the folks at Nya Carnegie Brewery, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, and Carlsberg Sweden decided to “challenge consumers’ notions about what’s possible to consume” by making a beer from treated wastewater. Guess what? It tastes fantastic!

PU:REST, a beer made from treated wastewater
PU:REST is made from treated wastewater

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute is a formidable leader in water technologies and is making wastewater cleaner than drinkable tap water. That’s why they decided to use treated wastewater to create a genuinely sustainable, circular economy beer.

“The reception for this one-off experimental brew has been amazing. Between the brewery, IVL, and Carlsberg, this beer has attracted hundreds of contacts from different stakeholders in Sweden and around the world.”

Brewmaster, Chris Thurgeson

Considering it takes about 20 gallons to produce a single beer, this new, innovative method is broadening the way people view wastewater.

Using Wastewater to Sustain Life

Moving on from fountain shows and craft beers, cities crippled by population growth and dwindling water supplies are also using wastewater to make a big impact – sustaining life.

In the past decade, Las Vegas has instilled the “region’s world-class water reclamation program cutting per capita water usage 37 percent, which saves roughly $5 million annually”.

So how do they do it?

They’re using a variety of mechanisms, but one critical aspect is energy usage monitoring, water quality testing, and water quantity monitoring at a wastewater treatment plant in the area.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Internet of Things is helping to create the wastewater treatment plant of the future by increasing efficiency, saving money, and becoming more sustainable.

Optimizing a Wastewater Treatment Plant with IoT

Why would a wastewater treatment plant want to use Industrial IoT?

One answer is that IoT systems, like Temboo’s Kosmos IoT platform, can give managers eyes in their plant that they never had before – be it from sub-metering or environmental sensor data collection.

Many wastewater treatment plants’ SCADA systems are old, with systems dating back to your grandparent’s youth. Needless to say, it is quite impressive that these plants are still operating as well as they do.

With the Internet of Things, wastewater treatment plants can leapfrog from the 1950s into modern day. Monitoring solutions like the ones illustrated below allow plant managers to collect and view data in order to optimize the systems they work with everyday.

Kosmos can monitor the flow rate, pump energy usage, and water quality of a wastewater treatment plant

Let’s take the example of pump energy usage. Collecting data about pump energy usage can tell a plant manager where the primary energy usage is occurring.

For instance, aeration basins are the most energy-intensive aspect of a wastewater treatment plant, and may be the first place managers think to look if they are trying to offset their energy usage and lower their GHG emissions.

If the plant manager used sub-metering on all the machines, however, they might find that the most energy-intensive machine is not the aeration basin. Once the data is collected they realized that one of the sewage pumps is actually exerting much more energy than usual, because it is malfunctioning.

Such data empowers a manager to address the malfunctioning machinery, determine the optimal input and output energy usage to lower energy usage, improve operational efficiency, and extend the life of the machine overall.

Additionally, once sub-metering data is collected, it can be combined across machines to inform a manager of the overall energy usage of a plant.

On a larger scale, if there are eight different plants within a city’s portfolio, a manager can start to evaluate each plant’s power usage.

If one plant is using more power than the rest, the manager can look within it to pinpoint where the most energy being used. Then they can identify which machine is malfunctioning and fix it, improving the holistic energy usage overall.

Tapping Into PLC Data with Kosmos

Many wastewater treatment plants have some real-time sensing occurring already, but it may not be continuous, reliable, or useful.

Kosmos can resolve this issue by tapping into PLCs in the plant that are using Modbus TCP.

By collecting data from sensors that are already a part of the plant’s PLC setup, managers can gain valuable insights without even needing to purchase additional hardware.

Plants can also use Kosmos in parallel to their SCADA systems enabling a holistic understanding of the energy/water usage while not interrupting their current operation.

The Wastewater Treatment Plant of the Future

So where can these Industrial IoT systems be deployed and what data can be generated? Below are just a few places to start.

Wastewater treatment plant process map

Wastewater Pretreatment: Monitoring the Flow Rate and Energy Usage at Grit Chambers and Pumps with IoT

Grit chambers are the long narrow tanks that are designed to slow down the flow of water. Monitoring the flow rate of sludge in these systems is essential because proper adjustments need to be made to allow solids such as sand, coffee grounds, and eggshells to settle out before moving on to the next phase of treatment.

If the sludge makes it past this phase, it can strain machinery further down the wastewater treatment process and ultimately destroy the pumps.

Another essential monitoring application during pretreament is collecting information on the energy usage of sewage pumps.

Knowing how much energy is used to pump thousands of gallons through a sewage pump provides insights as to which machines are using the most power, which need preventative maintenance, and which can be set to their optimal settings through sub-metering.

Vibration and current sensors can also be used to determine if an alarm is sounding and send a text message/email directly to the management team.

Wastewater Primary Treatment: Monitoring Flow Rates, Water Quality, and Energy Usage at Clarifiers

Monitoring the flow rate and suspended solids (SS) of water in a clarifier is critical because if the flow rate is faster than the settling velocity, then the sediment will not be adequately sifted.

Monitoring the SS also informs if the flow rate is correct, indicating an overall water quality status. By adding an industrial flow rate sensor to the clarifier along with the Kosmos IoT System, you’ll be able to graph the flow and get alerted of any irregularities.

Additionally, the energy usage at sludge dewatering systems can be monitored to determine if there are any machines that are overexerting themselves. Plant managers can then go in and fix any that are not running at optimal energy saving settings.

The amount of methane produced from dewatering can also be monitored and reused within the plant off-setting GHG emissions.

Wastewater Secondary Treatment: Monitoring Blowers and DO Levels in an Aeration Basin

Monitoring the dissolved oxygen (DO) levels and energy usage of blowers in the aeration phase are arguably two of the most critical factors to control.

Why? Because this phase is the most energy-intensive of the entire process.

The purpose of the aeration basin is to destroy the biological content of the wastewater by blowing air bubbles and returned activated sludge (bacteria that eats waste) into the effluent. Together, an aerobic digestion environment is created that removes the organic material.

By monitoring the energy output of the blowers and tracking the DO, managers can be sure that a sufficient amount of oxygen is present to promote microorganism growth and prevent the costly overuse of aeration equipment.

Monitoring other water quality parameters such as pH, ammonium, nitrate, solids, and orthophosphate are also essential factors in this step of the treatment process.

Wastewater Tertiary Treatment: IoT Applications at the Disinfection Phase

The Disinfection process can be done in three ways using either chlorine, UV, and ozone treatment:

  • If the water is being chlorinated, sensors can monitor the chemical levels within the water.
  • If UV rays are the primary mechanism, IoT sensors can remotely monitor the process by converting the flow and UV transmittance data to optimize the output.
  • If the ozone treatment is being used, IoT sensors can remotely monitor the high voltage current that destroys the organic material enabling managers to understand the energy output of their system and overall water quality.

Kosmos Insights for Plant Managers

Imagine being able to run a plant remotely by observing continuous data from your phone or desktop. With Kosmos this can become a reality.

Understanding Your Data With Clear Graphs

For example, when monitoring turbidity, a plant manager can observe the water quality with an informative graph detailing the exact information needed.

The beauty of this graph is not just the simplicity of it, but also that it reveals when the water quality rose above the permitted levels – detailed in red in the image below.

The end user can also export all the information into a csv file for data sharing/regulatory purposes.

Turbidity graph of a wastewater treatment plant
Kosmos graph showing turbidity readings

Set Your Own Alerts for When Things Go Wrong

Every wastewater treatment plant is has a certain flow rate, effluent discharge, and water quality permit that is mandated by the EPA.

To keep an eye out for any abnormalities, a manager can assign a rule to notify them if a certain setting breaches a threshold so that they can quickly take action to fix it.

In the example below, an alarm is set to send an email/text alerts to management when the turbidity surpasses 50 NTUs.

Setting up rules for your wastewater treatment plant with the Kosmos IoT System

Actionable Text Message Alerts

The managers will then receive a text message/email notifying them immediately when the levels are above average, allowing them to fix the issue as soon as possible.

Kosmos text message alert about wastewater treatment plant turbidity status

Predictions Powered by Machine Learning

The more data that is accumulated in Kosmos, the more valuable that data becomes.

Once enough information is in Kosmos, it becomes “historical data,”. Historical data can then be used with a machine learning algorithm to predict and forecast when machine failures are going to happen next.

Such data insights enable managers to fix the problem before it happens to prevent downtime, reduce operational costs, and improve the overall efficiency of the machinery.

As shown below, if the turbidity levels dropped below 100 NTUs in the past, Kosmos can tell you when the next expected drop in water quality will occur again.

Machine learning predictions for your wastewater treatment plant using Kosmos

The Future of Wastewater Treatment is Kosmos

Kosmos is a powerful tool designed to provide a manager with almost every piece of data you can dream of – be it sub-metering an asset, energy output at a plant scale, determining flow rates, water quality, methane usage, and much more. For wastewater treatment plants, the job is never done, and we at Temboo are here for you.

Leverage our expertise in the Industrial IoT space at a low-risk for you with a free trial of our Kosmos IoT System. Sign up here.

To find out more about how Kosmos can leverage existing data and upgrade your wastewater management system, please feel free to contact our Temboo team.

Let’s reimagine how we use this precious water resource with Industrial IoT!


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