Ecologically designed wastewater treatment systems (ex., Eco-Machines™) utilize a diverse ecosystem to treat wastewater to the same extent as conventional treatment, but require less energy and chemical inputs. The environmental benefits of Eco-Machines™ can be theoretically maximized by incorporating hyperaccumulating aquatic plants (ex., duckweed) to facilitate nutrient recovery and conversion into protein-rich biomass, which can then be harvested for a range of agricultural and bioenergy applications. Although it has been established that ecological wastewater treatment systems are more cost- and energy-efficient than conventional wastewater treatment systems, a systematic life cycle assessment (LCA) of an Eco-Machine™ coupled with its beneficial by-products has not been conducted. In this study, a series of LCAs were performed on different operational scenarios for a 1000 gallon per day, pilot-scale Eco-Machine™ that, in addition to producing irrigation-quality water, also produces duckweed biomass for aquaculture. The analysis revealed that Eco-Machines™ located in warm climates, which do not require a greenhouse or supplemental heating, use approximately a third of the energy and produce half of the greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional wastewater treatment systems in similar locations, while also providing benefits to human health, ecosystem quality, climate change, and resources. In addition, increasing the growth area for duckweed using vertical farming techniques improves the overall impact of the system. This study suggests that with proper management, ecological wastewater treatment systems that upcycle nutrients and water into beneficial products can provide a net benefit to human health and the environment.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law