The environmental footprint of a membrane bioreactor treatment process through Life Cycle Analysis
SourceScience of the Total Environment
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This study includes an environmental analysis of a membrane bioreactor (MBR), the objective being to quantitatively define the inventory of the resources consumed and estimate the emissions produced during its construction, operation and end-of-life deconstruction. The environmental analysis was done by the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology, in order to establish with a broad perspective and in a rigorous and objective way the environmental footprint and the main environmental hotspots of the examined technology. Raw materials, equipment, transportation, energy use, as well as air- and waterborne emissions were quantified using as a functional unit, 1m3 of urban wastewater. SimaPro 18.104.22.168 was used as the LCA analysis tool, and two impact assessment methods, i.e. IPCC 2013 version 1.00 and ReCiPe version 1.10, were employed. The main environmental hotspots of the MBR pilot unit were identified to be the following: (i) the energy demand, which is by far the most crucial parameter that affects the sustainability of the whole process, and (ii) the material of the membrane units. Overall, the MBR technology was found to be a sustainable solution for urban wastewater treatment, with the construction phase having a minimal environmental impact, compared to the operational phase. Moreover, several alternative scenarios and areas of potential improvement, such as the diversification of the electricity mix and the material of the membrane units, were examined, in order to minimize as much as possible the overall environmental footprint of this MBR system. It was shown that the energy mix can significantly affect the overall sustainability of the MBR pilot unit (i.e. up to 95% reduction of the total greenhouse gas emissions was achieved with the use of an environmentally friendly energy mix), and the contribution of the construction and operational phase to the overall environmental footprint of the system.•The environmental sustainability of an MBR pilot unit was examined.•The functional unit of this study was the treatment of 1m3 of urban wastewater.•MBR environmental impacts are attributed mainly to the energy consumption.•The second environmental hotspot of the MBR is the membrane unit's material.•MBR environmental footprint is directly associated to the energy mix used.