‘Virtual Plan’ Model Cuts Wastewater Plan Design, Construction Costs


United Water Resources and its Paris-based parent company Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux have combined their global expertise in water services and innovative research and development to introduce a computer modeling application that will cut design, building, and reconstruction costs of’ wastewater plants.

United Water will implement the first large "Virtual Plant" project at its Haworth Water Treatment plant in New Jersey. The $7 million dollar renovation will enable the plant to remain in compliance with the more stringent 2001 Safe Drinking Water Act. The benefits of the upgrade will be passed on to more than 750,000 people who depend on the plant for their water supply.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials estimate the country’s utility industry will need to invest $36 billion during the next 20 years to upgrade water treatment facilities and comply with the new regulations. The Virtual Plant solution will help Suez’ utilities meet the new requirements as well as achieve up to a 40 percent savings in plant development and operation costs, enhancing water quality and providing greater process reliability.

"Our unique technology benefits municipalities across the United States by helping them meet new water quality standards in an economical and expeditious manner, said Don Correll, chairman and CEO of United Water. "United Water and Lyonnaise des Eaux are focused on providing water services that are dependable, efficient, and of the highest quality."

Patrick Cairo, International Technology and Research Director of Suez, said the Virtual plant is a computer-modeling program that generates three-dimensional images of interacting substances (i.e. water and disinfectant).

"The Virtual Plant is an innovative application of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling tools that have been used in other industries, especially space and aviation, for the past 30 years," Cairo said. "Over the last eight years, our International Research and Development Center has perfected the components of its CFD model in more than 30 water facilities around the world. Our virtual plant technology is now thefirst in the world to provide optimized design solutions for the entire water cycle.

"Through work with various universities and through tests we’ve done in our facilities, we’ve been able to adapt on top of these models the particular reactions of a water treatment plant in terms of the chemical, biological, or physical behavior of removing pollutants from water," he added. "Now we have a complete set of reactions that helps us mimic the entire drinking water treatment process.

According to Cairo, a full-scale plant operation can be reproduced on a computer so that plant designers can see how changes in water flow or water quality will affect the water treatment process. While design projects usually require an expensive three- to six-month study, this evaluation can be accomplished in a few days at a fraction of the cost.

"Even if you run a pilot plan for three to six months you may not get the worst conditions," Cairo explained. "Run it in the summer and you may have low flood conditions or problems with algae. Run the pilot in the winter and all of a sudden you’re getting heavy storms or hurricanes up the East Coast and your watershed could become very turbid as everything gets stirred up.

"Virtual Plant allows you to essentially simulate the plant, and once you’ve got this model you can alter the conditions so that you’re looking at your worst case and you re making sure you’re not over designing," Cairo said. "The whole thing is to avoid the safety factors that oftentimes go into these kinds of designs to cover the unknown. We try to get, as much as we can, honed in on what’s really needed in these facilities. So, we think this will really help us optimize our designs and our rehabilitations.

Lyonnaise des Eaux is a world leader in water management services supplying more than 107 million people (nine million in the U.S., Canada and Mexico through its subsidiary United Water) with water and wastewater services throughout the world, including major cities such as Buenos Aires, Atlanta, Manaus, Manila, Casablanca, Budapest, and Sydney.

"The value for us is that we can use this in two main applications," Cairo said. "One is for new facilities where you would have a need to build a new plant for cities such as New York or Boston where they previously thought they had protected water sources until the new regulations were passed.

"The other, probably larger application is that the new evolutions of the regulations are req u iri ng cities to go back and reassess their treatment plants and the question is are these plants capable of meeting the new regulations? We can go back and help cities analyze their existing facilities and hopefully avoid unnecessary capital or operating expenses to optimize what they already have.

"We have a program in developing technologies and this thing is what we’re calling one of our Platform Technologies — one of our important ones," Cairo continued. "We obviously see a lot of our applications in the US., and see a number of applications in Europe and in Asia where this technology will help us be quite competitive."