Water scarcity is a growing environmental problem. Today, more than 650 million people live without access to clean water. This has serious consequences to human health and also hinders social and economic development. In China, for example, the problem is so great that it is no longer possible to start new industries. That is why IVL’s engagement in water and wastewater treatment technologies has taken off to such a degree.
Hammarby Sjöstadsverk, our unique pilot and demonstration facility, tests and develops innovative water and wastewater technologies. The overarching goals are to develop purification processes that are more energy and resource efficient, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and exploit the natural resources that end up in sewage treatment plants.
One example of this research is the development and testing of membrane technology for wastewater treatment implemented at Hammarby Sjöstadsverk by IVL and Stockholm Water. This will lead to Stockholm having the world's largest membrane filter plant that will lead to a greatly increased capacity at Henriksdal Wastewater Treatment Plant, lower phosphorus and nitrogen emissions and may even make it possible to purge drug residues from output water.
When researchers discovered that fish caught near wastewater treatment plants had ingested large amounts of drugs, IVL intensified efforts to develop cost-efficient methods to purify wastewater from pharmaceutical residues. Some of these methods are currently being tested with good results at full-scale treatment plants.
IVL researchers have also been deeply involved in a project to identify the presence of PFOS, a now banned substance used in fire foam at fire-drill sites. The project received much attention when it was discovered that drinking water across the country had been contaminated with PFOS.
More than ten years ago, scientists discovered elevated levels of small, barely visible particles in the oceans. IVL researchers have concentrated on particles down to one hundredth of a millimetre, as they suspect these are most harmful to animals and humans due to the fact that they act as contaminant carriers. These small particles are about the same size as plankton and end up the food chain when they are ingested by animals.
IVL's marine scientists have developed methods for detecting and analysing micro debris and this has made it possible to identify its sources— something that was previously difficult to do. It is principally coastal cities that spread micro debris to the marine environment via storm water, municipal sewage and various forms of combustion.
The goal of IVL's micro debris research is to establish a basis for the development of efficient treatment technologies for both wastewater, stormwater and combustion particles emitted by smokestacks and combustion engines. Much of the developmental work is carried out at Hammarby Sjöstadsverk.
The overarching goal of the activities underway at Hammarby Sjöstadsverk is that all water leaving the treatment plant is so clean that it can be recycled — so pure that it is drinkable. This may become a necessity in those countries that are on the verge of depleting their groundwater reserves completely.
A vision is also utilizing the resources that wastewater contains and turning treatment plants into production facilities, not only able to deliver clean water for recycling but also capable of generating bioenergy and extracting nutrients that can safely be returned to nature. Only then will we have a water treatment technology suitable for a sustainable society.