Australian Centre for Water
and Environmental Biotechnology

Sustainable wastewater treatment wins industry award

Friday, 24 September 2021
  • Image of the winning team

University of Queensland research contributing to sustainable municipal wastewater treatment has won a prestigious industry award.

The award was presented at the annual Australian Water Association Queensland Gala Dinner and Awards Night.

The Infrastructure Project Innovation Award (Metro) was given to Australia’s first municipal side stream anammox treatment facility at Urban Utilities’ Luggage Point Resource Recovery Centre – delivered by Urban Utilities, Veolia Water Technologies, Fulton Hogan, and supported by The University of Queensland.

UQ researchers helped enrich the initial anammox culture for the project, and provided technical support during the pilot and full-scale implementations at Urban Utilities’ Luggage Point site.

Anammox (Anaerobic Ammonium Oxidation) is a low cost, energy efficient biological process for nitrogen removal from wastewater. The bacteria mediating this process were initially identified in 1999 in The Netherlands.

In recent years, more and more anammox facilities are being commissioned in municipal wastewater treatment plants globally.  

One of the main challenges with building an anammox plant in Australia is that the bacteria are slow-growing and cannot be imported into Australia from overseas.

Dr Shihu Hu, Senior Research Fellow at UQ’s Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology, has been working on the Australian anammox project for over 10 years.

“The project is highly innovative with no comparable projects in the nation, setting itself apart from common practice of conventional treatment options,” said Dr Shihu Hu.

This long running anammox project began in a UQ lab in 2010 with a few ’bugs’ and a small tank.

UQ researchers, including Emeritus Professor Jurg Keller, spent more than 2 years carefully cultivating the anammox bugs and optimising the conditions for growth.

After establishing a reliable way to keep the bugs happy and growing, a pilot scale demonstration project was established at the Urban Utilities Luggage Point Resource Recovery Centre.

The pilot project proved to be a remarkable success, and won Australian Water Association National Research Innovation Award in 2017.

Following the success of the pilot scale project, Urban Utilities made the decision to install the Australia’s first full-scale side stream anammox treatment process at Luggage Point Resource Recovery Centre.

Ten years after the enrichment started at UQ with a 2-litre reactor, a 1000m3 full scale anammox facility was installed at Luggage Point by Urban Utilities, Veolia Water Technologies and Fulton Hogan in 2020.

“This award has recognised a project that will deliver significant economic and environmental benefits to water utilities.

“The anammox process now saves Urban Utilities around $500,000 per year, and ensures environmental compliance, produces less net greenhouse gas emissions and can be easily scaled to meet future demands,” said Dr Hu.