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Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy (2018) 20:1819–1834

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10098-018-1575-6

ORIGINAL PAPER

Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies:


a synthetic index approach
María Molinos‑Senante1,2,3

Received: 17 April 2018 / Accepted: 28 June 2018 / Published online: 4 July 2018
© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Abstract
Improving the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) provides notable economic and environmental
benefits to society. Several studies have benchmarked the energy performance of WWTPs, but they did not take into account
for differences in the wastewater treatment technologies they used, thus obscuring their relative efficiencies in removing harm-
ful pollutants. To overcome this shortcoming, this study assessed and compared the energy efficiencies of five wastewater
treatment technologies. To do so, the metafrontier approach was used in order to account for the technological differences
among plants in removing pollutants. The results evidenced that energy efficiencies for WWTPs using attached-growth
processes were higher than for WWTPs using suspended-growth technologies as secondary treatment. Moreover, higher
pollutant removal efficiencies associated with biological removal of nutrients compensated for the higher energy require-
ments of this technology, making these WWTPs more energy efficient in the removal of pollutants. The results of this study
provide essential information for improving the sustainability of current WWTPs and can support decision-making in the
planning of new wastewater treatment facilities.

Keywords  Energy performance · Wastewater treatment plant · Greenhouse gas emissions · Data envelopment analysis ·
Metafrontier

Introduction substantial amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to


the atmosphere (Mamais et al. 2015).
Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are essential for As the number of WWTPs increases and effluent require-
improving the urban aquatic environment and for protect- ments become more stringent, the issue of energy efficiency
ing public health. These energy-intensive facilities remove is attracting increasingly more attention from economists
pollutants from wastewater in order to meet quality stand- and environmental scientists (Doraisamy et  al. 2013).
ards for effluent imposed by governmental agencies (Zeng Gude (2015) showed that improving the energy efficiency
et al. 2017). WWTPs account for around 1% of total elec- of wastewater treatment systems provides several benefits,
tricity demand in developed countries (Miller et al. 2013). including: reducing energy costs, air pollution and GHG
Moreover, energy consumption by WWTPs contributes a emissions, improving energy safety, extending the life of
infrastructures/equipment and protecting public health.
Reflecting growing concerns about the amount of energy
* María Molinos‑Senante used by WWTPs, numerous recent studies have aimed to
mmolinos@uc.cl evaluate the energy efficiencies of WWTPs (Naik and Sten-
1
Departamento de Ingeniería Hidráulica y Ambiental, strom 2016). Benchmarking, a comparative process, is an
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Av. Vicuña excellent tool for assessing the energy efficiency of indi-
Mackenna 4860, Santiago, Chile vidual WWTPs, thus making it possible to identify inef-
2
Instituto de Estudios Urbanos y Territoriales, Pontificia ficiencies and the prioritize optimization efforts (Krampe
Universidad Católica de Chile, El Comendador 1916, 2013; Torregrossa et al. 2016). A literature review con-
Santiago, Chile ducted by Longo et al. (2016) found that two main bench-
3
Centro de Desarrollo Urbano Sustentable mark approaches—normalization and programming
CONICYT/FONDAP/15110020, Av. Vicuña Mackenna
4860, Santiago, Chile

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M. Molinos‑Senante
1820

techniques—have been employed to benchmark the energy This later approach has two important drawbacks. Firstly, the
performance of WWTPs. technology used to carry out secondary treatment has been
Standardization compares the energy use of WWTPs shown to affect energy consumption (Wang et al. 2016). The
based on key performance indicators, such as kWh/m3 or second limitation is methodological: By integrating several
kWh/people equivalent (PE). Standardization is simple to wastewater treatment technologies in the analyses, these
implement and interpret and has been used to compare the studies assumed that they all have the same efficient produc-
energy performance of WWTPs in China (Yang et al. 2010), tion frontier. However, a traditional and basic assumption of
Japan (Mizuta and Shimada 2010) and Italy (Campanelli production frontier models is that they should not be used to
et al. 2013). However, this approach does not account for compare the efficiencies of entities (WWTPs) that employ
the influent and effluent characteristics, nor does it consider different technologies (Lozano-Vivas and Pastor 2002).
the treatment capacity of the WWTPs (Longo et al. 2016). To overcome the aforementioned limitations, this paper
To overcome these limitations, mathematical programming used a DEA metafrontier model to jointly evaluate energy
methods are used to define optimal control, which is sub- and pollutant removal efficiencies of WWTPs that use a vari-
sequently employed for comparing wastewater treatment ety of wastewater treatment technologies. To do this, energy
facilities (Hernández-Sancho et al. 2011). The data envel- efficiencies of five wastewater treatment technologies were
opment analysis (DEA) method is the most frequently used estimated and their potential energy savings were computed.
programming approach for evaluating the energy efficiency This paper compares the energy efficiencies of five waste-
of WWTPs (Longo et al. 2016). DEA is a mathematical water treatment technologies for the first time using a robust
programming technique that allows users to build an effi- and reliable assessment approach (i.e., DEA metafrontier
cient production frontier to assess the relative efficiency of method). Although several studies have evaluated energy
WWTPs (Dong et al. 2017). DEA uses data with several efficiencies of WWTPs, none of them have directly com-
input and output parameters (Shabani et al. 2014), gener- pared the energy efficiencies of plants using a variety of
ating a synthetic index that integrates numerous variables wastewater treatment technologies. Hence, this study pro-
(e.g., removal efficiency of various pollutants). Moreover, vides a novel approach to assess and compare the energy
DEA solves problems related to economies-of-scale by efficiencies of WWTPs in relation to the type of technology
assuming increasing returns-to-scale technology (Marques they employ.
et al. 2014).
Given the benefits of the DEA approach, some previous
studies have applied DEA to evaluate energy efficiencies Methods
of WWTPs. In pioneering the use of DEA in this context,
Hernández-Sancho et al. (2011) applied a non-radial DEA All efficiency assessments using a production frontier
model to assess the energy efficiencies of 177 WWTPs. Sub- approach should analyse decision-making units (WWTPs
sequently, Molinos-Senante et al. (2014) assessed the energy in this case) relative to those with similar technological char-
performances of several WWTPs by estimating pure and acteristics. It means that conventional efficiency evaluation
mixed environmental indices. Alidrisi (2014) and Castellet models should not be used to compare efficiencies among
and Molinos-Senante (2016) estimated potential economic units that employ different types of technologies (O’Donnell
savings associated with improvements in energy efficiency et al. 2017) because different technologies have different
for two case studies. A series of research studies (Lorenzo- production frontiers.
Toja et al. 2015; Molinos-Senante et al. 2017; Dong et al. To overcome the limitation of not being able to evaluate
2017) focused on evaluating the eco-efficiency of a WWTP the efficiencies of units (WWTPs in this study) that vary in
by integrating the assessment of various environmental the types of technologies they use, the metafrontier approach
parameters with the amount of energy used. was applied to evaluate and compare energy efficiency of
All the studies outlined above ignored the various types of WWTPs. A metafrontier is a function of its dataset, which
technology used by plants to treat their wastewater. Although can incorporate the elements of all possible production fron-
some studies (e.g., Hernández-Sancho et al. 2011; Molinos- tiers (Battese et al. 2004). Thus, the metafrontier approach
Senante et al. 2017; Castellet and Molinos-Senante 2016) enables to account for the heterogeneity between WWTP
only benchmarked the energy efficiencies of WWTPs that technologies. In particular, this study employs the non-con-
used the same type of treatment technology (i.e., second- cave metafrontier approach proposed by Tiedemann et al.
ary treatment of activated sludge), other studies computed (2011) which evades the problem of infeasible combinations
efficiency scores using a single DEA model based on bench- of inputs and outputs (Molinos-Senante et al. 2015).
marks that integrated data from plants that used several dif- Assuming that there are K wastewater treatment technolo-
ferent wastewater treatment technologies (Lorenzo-Toja gies in total, where k = 1, 2, …, K. Group technology Tk is
et al. 2015; Molinos-Senante et al. 2017; Dong et al. 2017).

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1821

the set of all input–output vectors (x, y) ∈ ℜM+L


+
for a unit According to Eq. (8), the efficiency with respect to meta-
belonging to group k, such that: frontier (E*) must be smaller than the efficiency relative to
each technology (Ek).
T k = {(x, y) ∈ ℜM+L ; where x can produce y in group k}. Input distance functions relative to each technological
+
(1) frontier and the metafrontier were computed using DEA
The vectors x ∈ ℜM +
and y ∈ ℜ L represent inputs and
+ approach. Unlike parametric methods such as stochastic
outputs, respectively. The input set associated with Tk is frontier analysis, DEA does not need assumptions about the
defined as: functional relationship between inputs and outputs (Guer-
rini et al. 2015). Assuming that a sample covers n WWTPs
Lk (y) = x ∶ (x, y) ∈ T k . (2)
{ }
(j = 1, …, n) with m inputs and s outputs for each WWTP,
To measure energy efficiency, the input distance function then the following linear programme was solved for each
for each technology k is as follows: WWTP evaluated:
Dk (x, y) = min𝜃 𝜃 > 0 ∶ x𝜃 ∈ Lk (y)
{ }
k = 1, 2, … , K.
Min 𝜃 k
(3) s.t∶
The input distance function designates the maximum n
𝜆j xij ≤ 𝜃 k xi0 (9)

reduction of inputs that a WWTP can achieve while still where i = 1, … , m,
j=1
keeping the vector of outputs constant. Dk(x, y) = 1 involves n
that the WWTP is located on the efficient production frontier

𝜆j yrj ≥ yr0 where r = 1, … , s,
and therefore it is efficient. By contrast, Dk(x, y) > 1 indicates
j=1

that the WWTP belongs to the interior of Lk(y) and therefore n



it can potentially reduce its vector of inputs. It involves that 𝜆j = 1
the WWTP is inefficient. j=1

The metafrontier concept involves that if a particular out- 𝜆j ≥ 0 where j = 1, … , nk ,


put y can be produced by using a given input vector x in any
one of the k groups, then (x, y) belongs to the metatechnol- where xij and yrj represent the quantity of inputs (i = 1, …, m)
ogy T* (Hayami 1969). It is defined as: and outputs (r = 1, …, s) for each WWTP; xi0 and yr0 are
values from the WWTP being assessed; nk is the number of
T ∗ = (x, y) ∈ ℜM+L
{
+
; where x can produce facilities in group k; and θk is a scalar whose value indicates
(4)
y in some group T k (k = 1, 2, … , k) , the energy efficiency of the WWTP being assessed.
}

where T* = {T1 ∪ T2 ∪ … ∪ Tk}.
Then, the input distance function, defined using T*, is
defined as D*(x, y): Case study
D∗ (x, y) = min𝜃 {𝜃 > 0 ∶ x𝜃 ∈ L(y)}. (5) Description of wastewater treatment process
k *
The ratio between D (x, y) and D (x, y), called the techno-
logical gap ratio (TGR​k), measures the degree of closeness WWTPs are facilities designed to eliminate pollutants from
between the group k frontier and the metafrontier (Konto- wastewater using physical, chemical and/or biological pro-
laimou et al. 2012). Efficiency with respect to the group k cesses. Wastewater treatment usually involves one of sev-
technology (Ek) and the metatechnology (E*) is as follows: eral types of processes, referred to as preliminary, primary,
secondary or tertiary treatment. While most of the WWTPs
1
Ek = , (6) present similar preliminary and primary treatment technolo-
Dk (x, y)
gies, secondary or biological processes might differ notably
among them (Sala-Garrido et al. 2012). Moreover, most of
1
E∗ = . (7) the energy in WWTPs is consumed to operate the second-
D∗ (x, y) ary treatment since oxygen must be supplied to microorgan-
Then, TGR​k is defined as: isms in order for them to treat organics under aerobic condi-
tions (Panepinto et al. 2016). The evaluated WWTPs were
1∕ ∗ categorized into five technological types: (1) conventional
D (x, y) E∗
TGRk = / = k ≤ 1. (8) activated sludge (CAS), (2) activated sludge with biological
1 k E
D (x, y) nitrogen and phosphorus removal (AS + BNPR), (3) aerated

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M. Molinos‑Senante
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lagoon (AL), (4) trickling filter (TF) and (5) rotating biologi- technologies. For comparative purposes, energy con-
cal contactor or biodisk (BD).1 sumption is expressed as kWh/m3 and outputs as pollut-
ant removal efficiency. In average terms, WWTPs using
Description of evaluated WWTPs AS + BNPR treatment provide the largest energy intensity
values, whereas plants using BD treatment used the low-
For this case study, 331 Chilean WWTPs were selected for est quantity of energy per cubic metre of treated wastewa-
sampling based on the availability and quality of the data ter. Notable differences in removal efficiency of pollutants,
associated with them. All WWTPs were operated by private mainly of N and P, are also reported in Table 1. This con-
water companies and monitored by the national water indus- firms the statement that the energy efficiencies of WWTPs
try regulator, “Superintendencia de Servicios Sanitarios”, should be measured with a synthetic index that involves
which provided the statistical information about the sampled multiple variables.
facilities. Chile is a Latin-American country which, in the last
20 years, has notably improved wastewater management and
treatment services (Molinos-Senante and Sala-Garrido 2015). Results and discussion
After the privatization process of urban water companies car-
ried out between 1998 and 2004, the access to wastewater The metafrontier concept relies on the assumption that the
treatment services increases notably. In fact, about 97% of evaluated units are non-homogeneous regarding their tech-
urban wastewater is now treated in Chile (SISS 2015). nological frontier. In order to test whether the five wastewa-
Because the aim of this paper was to evaluate and compare ter treatment technologies evaluated in this study complied
energy efficiencies of wastewater treatment technologies, the with this assumption, the Kruskal–Wallis nonparametric test
input data were comprised of variables that consume energy was applied. The null hypothesis is that the five wastewater
to treat the wastewater (and thus should be minimized to treatment technologies operate under the same production
improve plant performance), expressed in kWh/year. Some frontier (Dong et al. 2017). According to Kruskal and Wallis
previous studies evaluating the energy efficiencies of WWTPs (1952), when the p value of the test is less than 0.05, the null
using the DEA approach (e.g., Hernández-Sancho et al. 2011; hypothesis can be rejected with a 95% level of significance.
Molinos-Senante et al. 2014; Castellet and Molinos-Senante Thus, the rejection of the null hypothesis means that the
2016) measured energy input in economic units, such as €/ evaluated technologies do not operate under the same pro-
year paid by the WWTP company for energy. However, duction frontier and, therefore, the metafrontier approach is
expressing energy use in kWh/year rather than €/year is more needed to compare energy efficiencies among technologies.
appropriate for revealing the relative energy efficiencies of Five Kruskal–Wallis tests, one for each variable, were con-
WWTPs. In this context, Aymerich et al. (2016) demonstrated ducted. Table 2 shows that the p values for all variables were
that energy costs in WWTPs mostly depend on the energy lower than 0.05; therefore, the null hypothesis was rejected.
tariff structure, which is extremely different for each WWTP. The DEA model (Eq. 9) was next applied to compute the
Therefore, reducing energy costs is not necessarily equivalent energy efficiency of each WWTP against the group (technol-
to increasing energy efficiency. ogy type) frontiers and the metafrontier. Table 3 provides
Selected outputs used in efficiency assessments must descriptive statistics for these estimates. Further details are
summarize the function of the facility (Zeng et al. 2017). available in “Appendix”.
This is because the ultimate value of a WWTP lies in its abil- Average energy efficiency scores ranged from a minimum
ity to produce an effluent whose discharge produces minimal of 0.511 for WWTPs using CAS treatment to a maximum
environmental impact (Dong et al. 2017). Four contaminants of 0.808 for WWTPs that biologically removed N and P (in
constituted the main pollutant outputs from the wastewater addition to removing BOD and SS). The energy efficiency
treatment process: (1) organic matter, measured as biologi- scores differed among the five technologies in the estimated
cal oxygen demand after 5 days, (2) suspended solids, (3) group (technology type) frontier models. The energy effi-
nitrogen and (4) phosphorus. All outputs were expressed as ciency score allows calculating the potential energy savings
kilograms of contaminants removed from wastewater per if the plants are operated at their efficient frontiers (i.e., if
year. Hence, output variables integrate both the influent and they have the same performance as the best performing unit
effluent characteristics of wastewater. within their assigned technological type). According to
Table 1 summarizes the basic statistics of the input and the average energy efficiency scores calculated (Table 3),
output variables associated with wastewater treatment WWTPs using CAS, AS + BNPR, AL, TF and BD tech-
nologies could potentially save 48.9, 19.2, 40.6, 19.9 and
39.1% of their current energy consumption, respectively.
1
 Specific characteristics of each wastewater treatment technology Therefore, from a management perspective, the evaluated
can be consulted at Sala-Garrido et al. (2011) and FAO (1992). WWTPs could use substantially less energy than the most

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Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1823

Table 1  Statistics of input and Conventional Activated sludge Aerated lagoon Trickling filter Biodisk
output variables activated sludge with nutrients
removal

Number of WWTPs 177 43 45 21 45


Outputs
 Biological oxygen demand efficiency removal
  Mean 0.92 0.96 0.83 0.83 0.92
  Std. Dev. 0.06 0.03 0.15 0.16 0.06
  Minimum 0.65 0.83 0.36 0.29 0.70
  Maximum 0.99 0.99 0.99 0.98 0.98
 Suspended solids efficiency removal
  Mean 0.90 0.93 0.81 0.86 0.92
  Std. Dev. 0.07 0.04 0.16 0.15 0.05
  Minimum 0.56 0.79 0.31 0.28 0.79
  Maximum 0.98 0.99 0.98 0.96 0.99
 Nitrogen efficiency removal
  Mean 0.33 0.88 0.67 0.53 0.54
  Std. Dev. 0.17 0.15 0.15 0.15 0.19
  Minimum 0.09 0.29 0.19 0.19 0.13
  Maximum 0.54 0.94 0.84 0.73 0.83
 Phosphorus efficiency removal
  Mean 0.60 0.84 0.40 0.52 0.52
  Std. Dev. 0.13 0.07 0.20 0.18 0.22
  Minimum 0.30 0.56 0.02 0.15 0.02
  Maximum 0.73 0.93 0.55 0.82 0.83
Input
 Energy consumption (kWh/m3)
  Mean 0.52 0.61 0.51 0.55 0.49
  Std. Dev. 0.37 0.36 0.44 0.41 0.24
  Minimum 0.11 0.20 0.01 0.19 0.11
  Maximum 1.78 1.88 1.94 1.82 1.61

Table 2  Kruskal–Wallis test statistics for differences in the five energy efficiency scores and so were the most heterogene-
wastewater treatment technologies ous of the wastewater treatment technologies analysed. This
Variable Chi-squared p value variability might have occurred because the evaluated AL
WWTPs employed two different types of aeration systems:
Biological oxygen demand removed (Kg/ 12.573 < 0.001 fine bubble diffusors and mechanical aerators. In general, the
year)
oxygen transfer efficiency is better for bubble diffusor-based
Suspended solids removed (Kg/year) 13.107 < 0.001
aeration systems. Moreover, inadequate aeration negatively
Nitrogen removed (Kg/year) 8.757 < 0.001
affects pollution removal efficiency because proper aeration
Phosphorus removed (Kg/year) 9.507 < 0.001
is important for keeping lagoon contents mixed and in sus-
Energy consumed (kWh/year) 10.171 < 0.001
pension (Marais et al. 2017).
In an assessment of the energy efficiencies of WWTPs
efficiently operated plants using the same wastewater treat- according to the type of technology implemented, it is
ment technology. important to analyse the percentage of efficient plants in the
Table 3 also shows the variation (standard deviation, Std. population (i.e., plants located on the energy-efficient fron-
Dev.) in energy efficiency scores. Plants using TF technol- tier, which are the most energy-efficient plants). The percent-
ogy presented the lowest variability in terms of energy per- age of plants located at the frontier was low for all five of the
formance. In other words, these WWTPs were similar in analysed technologies (Table 3). For example, only nine of
terms of energy efficiency. By contrast, WWTPs whose sec- the 177 WWTPs (5%) using CAS technology were scored
ondary technology was AL reported the largest variability in as being efficient. Thus, using relative criteria, 95% of the

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M. Molinos‑Senante
1824

Table 3  Average energy Energy efficiency with respect Energy efficiency with respect
efficiency scores with respect to group frontiers to the metafrontier
to group frontiers and to the
metafrontier for wastewater Average Std. Dev. % Energy Average Std. Dev. % Energy
treatment plants using efficient efficient
conventional activated sludge,
activated sludge with biological Conventional activated sludge 0.511 0.260 5.08 0.342 0.239 3.95
nitrogen and phosphorus Activated sludge with nutrients removal 0.808 0.165 18.60 0.403 0.249 0.00
removal, aerated lagoon, Aerated lagoon 0.594 0.297 15.55 0.346 0.256 4.44
trickling filter and biodisk
Trickling filter 0.801 0.140 19.04 0.453 0.243 4.76
Biodisk 0.609 0.258 13.33 0.467 0.222 4.44

sampled plants had the potential to save energy while still

Average energy efficiency score


0.9
maintaining their pollutant removal efficiencies. WWTPs 0.8
0.7
using TF had the largest percentage (19%) of energy-efficient 0.6
facilities (i.e., 81% of the WWTPs could save energy if oper- 0.5
ated as efficiently as the most efficiently operating plants). 0.4
0.3
To compare energy efficiencies among various wastewater 0.2
treatment technologies, efficiency scores with respect to the 0.1
metafrontier were estimated. The lowest mean energy effi- 0.0
BD TF AS+BNPR AL CAS
ciency scores (worst performing) corresponded to WWTPs
Group froner Metafroner
using CAS technology, whereas the highest scoring (best per-
forming) WWTPs used BD technology (Table 3). The relative
position of each technology diverged when energy efficiencies Fig. 1  Average energy efficiency scores with respect to group frontier
and to the metafrontier for wastewater treatment technologies
were computed with respect to their individual frontiers or
with the metafrontier (Fig. 1). Moreover, there was a marked
reduction in the percentage of energy-efficient plants when (Molinos-Senante and Sala-Garrido 2016; Liu et al. 2017).
efficiency scores were calculated relative to the metafron- Figure 2a shows the average TGRs for the five wastewater
tier. In this case, none of the plants using AS + BNPR were treatment technologies we analysed. Figure 2b illustrates the
deemed energy efficient, and the best performing technologies average potential energy savings for each technology type.
were BD and TF (Fig. 1). BD and TF utilize attached-growth The results for each WWTP are given in “Appendix”.
processes, in which the nutrients are removed by microorgan- On average, plants using BD had the least potential to save
isms that are attached to a support medium. This suggests that energy, given their pollutant removal efficiencies (i.e., these
microbial treatment of wastewater with WWTPs using sus- plants were well operated from an energy efficiency perspec-
pended-growth structures is less energy efficient than facilities tive). In contrast, WWTPs employing AS + BNPR technol-
using attached-growth structures. ogy had substantial potential to save energy; in average terms,
WWTPs using CAS were less energy intensive than they could potentially save about 50% of their current energy
WWTPs that also remove N and P biologically (Table 1). How- consumption. This finding reveals that in spite of the recog-
ever, on average, facilities using AS + BNPR technology were nized importance of conserving energy, the WWTPs using
more efficient than WWTPs using CAS technology (Fig. 1). this technology are not being operated efficiently.
This finding suggests that the higher energy consumption of Given the economic and environmental importance
plants using AS + BNPR technology (average = 0.61 kWh/m3) of evaluating and improving the energy performance of
relative to plants using more biologically mediated AS technol- WWTPs, the topic addressed in this paper is relevant from
ogy (average = 0.52 kWh/m3) to remove nitrogen and phospho- both policy and management perspectives. The comparison
rus was compensated for by a higher efficiency in the removal of the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technolo-
rates of these two contaminants. This result demonstrates the gies provides essential information to managers to iden-
importance of measuring energy efficiency using a synthetic tify appropriate industry standards regarding energy use.
indicator that incorporates both energy consumption and pol- According to the United Nations (2017), over 80% of all
lutant removal efficiency, rather than using a simple indicator wastewater at global level is discharged without treatment.
based only on energy consumption (e.g., kWh/m3). It involves that new WWTPs will need to be built in the
The technological gap ratio (TGR) measures the distance near future. This study provides essential information to
between each technological frontier and the metafrontier support decision-making in selecting wastewater treatment

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1825

a b
0.9
0.8 50.0

Average potenal energy saving (%)


0.7
40.0
0.6
Average TGR

0.5 30.0
0.4
0.3 20.0

0.2
10.0
0.1
0.0 0.0
CAS AS+BNPR AL TF BD CAS AS+BNPR AL TF BD

Fig. 2  a Average technological gap ratio (TGR) for wastewater treatment technologies. b Average potential energy saving for wastewater treat-
ment technologies

technologies that report the best energy performance taking lagoon) as biological treatment approaches. Thirdly, plants
into account efficiencies in removal of pollutants. using conventional activated sludge consumed less energy per
cubic metre of treated wastewater (kWh/m3) than WWTPs
that also biologically removed nitrogen and phosphorus. How-
Conclusions ever, the latter type of WWTP was more energy efficient. This
result reveals that the larger nutrient removal rate of WWTPs
Improving the energy efficiency of WWTPs can provide using activated sludge with nutrients removal compensated for
important environmental and economic benefits. Given the the higher energy consumption required to do so. Finally, on
importance of this topic, some previous papers have quanti- average, plants using activated sludge with nutrients removal
fied the energy consumed (kWh/m3 or kWh/PE) by WWTPs. could save around 50% of the energy they currently use. Such
Other studies employed more complex and robust methods, savings would account for a substantial improvement in eco-
such as data envelopment analysis, to base energy efficiency nomic and environmental efficiencies.
assessments relative to the best performing WWTPs (i.e., Knowledge of the energy efficiencies of wastewater treat-
benchmarking). However, those studies ignored the varia- ment technologies is essential for ensuring the long-term
tion in the secondary treatment technologies of the WWTPs sustainability of current WWTPs and for planning new ones.
they analysed, thus assuming that they did not differ. Other Improving the energy efficiency of WWTPs could reduce
studies computed energy efficiency scores using a single their greenhouse gas emissions and operational costs, with
data envelopment analysis model, assuming that all of the important repercussions for society. From an economic
evaluated plants had the same efficient production frontier. perspective, some regulations, such as the European Water
However, wastewater treatment technology has been shown Framework Directive (2000/60/EC), require full cost recov-
to affect the energy intensity of WWTPs. To overcome this ery of water services. Hence, any improvement in the energy
assessment limitation, this study directly compared the efficiencies of WWTPs could be translated into a reduction
energy efficiencies of five wastewater treatment technologies in tariffs paid by citizens for wastewater treatment. Energy
using a data envelopment analysis metafrontier approach. efficiency comparisons between technologies are particularly
Potential energy savings were also computed at plant level. relevant to decision-making when planning new WWTPs.
The empirical application provided four primary con-
clusions. Firstly, WWTPs using aerated lagoon diverged in Acknowledgements  This work was supported by CONICYT through
Fondecyt 11160031 and REDI170223.
energy efficiency scores within their technological group,
suggesting that there are notable differences in the energy
consumed and pollutant removal efficiencies of WWTPs
using aerated lagoon technology. Secondly, WWTPs using
Appendix: Individual energy efficiency
attached-growth technologies (i.e., trickling filters and bio-
scores
disk) were more energy efficient than WWTPs using sus-
See Tables 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
pended-growth technologies (i.e., conventional activated
sludge, activated sludge with nutrients removal and aerated

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M. Molinos‑Senante
1826

Table 4  Energy efficiency WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
scores with respect to the respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
metafrontier and to the group (%)
frontier, technological gap ratio
and potential energy saving of WWTP1 0.109 0.131 0.830 17.0
wastewater treatment plants
WWTP2 0.339 0.339 1.000 0.0
(WWTPs) using conventional
activated sludge as secondary WWTP3 0.133 0.142 0.939 6.1
treatment WWTP4 0.110 0.130 0.847 15.3
WWTP5 0.698 0.829 0.843 15.7
WWTP6 0.125 0.225 0.556 44.4
WWTP7 0.133 0.155 0.859 14.1
WWTP8 0.144 0.162 0.888 11.2
WWTP9 0.119 0.127 0.936 6.4
WWTP10 0.133 0.148 0.897 10.3
WWTP11 0.656 0.749 0.875 12.5
WWTP12 0.280 0.437 0.641 35.9
WWTP13 0.539 0.614 0.878 12.2
WWTP14 0.155 0.289 0.536 46.4
WWTP15 0.199 0.219 0.910 9.0
WWTP16 0.125 0.263 0.476 52.4
WWTP17 0.353 0.591 0.597 40.3
WWTP18 0.364 0.566 0.644 35.6
WWTP19 0.193 0.647 0.299 70.1
WWTP20 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP21 0.257 0.400 0.641 35.9
WWTP22 0.301 0.351 0.859 14.1
WWTP23 0.112 0.254 0.440 56.0
WWTP24 0.240 0.324 0.742 25.8
WWTP25 0.589 0.929 0.634 36.6
WWTP26 0.319 0.513 0.621 37.9
WWTP27 0.158 0.381 0.414 58.6
WWTP28 0.151 0.201 0.752 24.8
WWTP29 0.105 0.232 0.451 54.9
WWTP30 0.135 0.308 0.439 56.1
WWTP31 0.542 0.547 0.990 1.0
WWTP32 0.318 0.383 0.830 17.0
WWTP33 0.158 0.281 0.562 43.8
WWTP34 0.172 0.533 0.323 67.7
WWTP35 0.112 0.251 0.444 55.6
WWTP36 0.224 0.478 0.468 53.2
WWTP37 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP38 0.514 0.936 0.549 45.1
WWTP39 0.182 0.341 0.534 46.6
WWTP40 0.176 0.225 0.782 21.8
WWTP41 0.140 0.222 0.631 36.9
WWTP42 0.182 0.229 0.795 20.5
WWTP43 0.171 0.355 0.482 51.8
WWTP44 0.572 0.572 1.000 0.0
WWTP45 0.143 0.291 0.492 50.8

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1827

Table 4  (continued) WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
(%)

WWTP46 0.342 0.399 0.857 14.3


WWTP47 0.501 0.772 0.648 35.2
WWTP48 0.196 0.273 0.717 28.3
WWTP49 0.582 0.821 0.709 29.1
WWTP50 0.403 0.896 0.450 55.0
WWTP51 0.178 0.223 0.798 20.2
WWTP52 0.226 0.304 0.742 25.8
WWTP53 0.548 0.870 0.630 37.0
WWTP54 0.132 0.444 0.297 70.3
WWTP55 0.362 0.412 0.879 12.1
WWTP56 0.185 0.202 0.917 8.3
WWTP57 0.134 0.359 0.374 62.6
WWTP58 0.152 0.183 0.829 17.1
WWTP59 0.443 0.586 0.756 24.4
WWTP60 0.104 0.241 0.430 57.0
WWTP61 0.241 0.474 0.509 49.1
WWTP62 0.761 0.789 0.965 3.5
WWTP63 0.298 0.501 0.595 40.5
WWTP64 0.270 0.442 0.611 38.9
WWTP65 0.168 0.216 0.779 22.1
WWTP66 0.847 0.920 0.921 7.9
WWTP67 0.192 0.422 0.454 54.6
WWTP68 0.110 0.176 0.627 37.3
WWTP69 0.767 0.767 1.000 0.0
WWTP70 0.380 0.399 0.954 4.6
WWTP71 0.156 0.262 0.595 40.5
WWTP72 0.551 0.553 0.997 0.3
WWTP73 0.170 0.217 0.784 21.6
WWTP74 0.385 0.434 0.887 11.3
WWTP75 0.489 0.579 0.845 15.5
WWTP76 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP77 0.259 0.676 0.383 61.7
WWTP78 0.174 0.576 0.302 69.8
WWTP79 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP80 0.126 0.172 0.734 26.6
WWTP81 0.255 0.636 0.401 59.9
WWTP82 0.500 0.503 0.993 0.7
WWTP83 0.208 0.570 0.365 63.5
WWTP84 0.645 0.662 0.974 2.6
WWTP85 0.871 0.997 0.873 12.7
WWTP86 0.140 0.149 0.942 5.8
WWTP87 0.115 0.535 0.215 78.5
WWTP88 0.898 0.959 0.937 6.3
WWTP89 0.337 0.756 0.446 55.4
WWTP90 0.222 0.306 0.725 27.5

13
M. Molinos‑Senante
1828

Table 4  (continued) WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
(%)

WWTP91 0.881 0.881 1.000 0.0


WWTP92 0.399 0.736 0.542 45.8
WWTP93 0.112 0.250 0.449 55.1
WWTP94 0.192 0.207 0.927 7.3
WWTP95 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP96 0.486 0.627 0.775 22.5
WWTP97 0.160 0.237 0.676 32.4
WWTP98 0.153 0.192 0.796 20.4
WWTP99 0.283 0.465 0.609 39.1
WWTP100 0.526 0.726 0.725 27.5
WWTP101 0.233 0.268 0.869 13.1
WWTP102 0.133 0.577 0.231 76.9
WWTP103 0.240 0.480 0.499 50.1
WWTP104 0.690 0.797 0.866 13.4
WWTP105 0.223 0.436 0.513 48.7
WWTP106 0.489 0.637 0.768 23.2
WWTP107 0.281 0.347 0.809 19.1
WWTP108 0.817 0.817 1.000 0.0
WWTP109 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP110 0.173 0.226 0.768 23.2
WWTP111 0.140 0.232 0.602 39.8
WWTP112 0.333 0.604 0.551 44.9
WWTP113 0.134 0.402 0.334 66.6
WWTP114 0.161 0.228 0.706 29.4
WWTP115 0.411 0.798 0.515 48.5
WWTP116 0.780 0.914 0.853 14.7
WWTP117 0.764 0.804 0.950 5.0
WWTP118 0.319 0.576 0.554 44.6
WWTP119 0.407 0.752 0.541 45.9
WWTP120 0.122 0.665 0.183 81.7
WWTP121 0.292 0.403 0.724 27.6
WWTP122 0.773 0.906 0.853 14.7
WWTP123 0.434 0.717 0.605 39.5
WWTP124 0.173 0.247 0.700 30.0
WWTP125 0.268 0.559 0.480 52.0
WWTP126 0.690 0.928 0.744 25.6
WWTP127 0.485 0.738 0.658 34.2
WWTP128 0.352 0.424 0.830 17.0
WWTP129 0.276 0.343 0.804 19.6
WWTP130 0.580 0.825 0.703 29.7
WWTP131 0.328 0.653 0.503 49.7
WWTP132 0.210 0.446 0.470 53.0
WWTP133 0.330 0.536 0.616 38.4
WWTP134 0.237 0.360 0.659 34.1

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1829

Table 4  (continued) WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
(%)

WWTP135 0.206 0.234 0.881 11.9


WWTP136 0.337 0.456 0.740 26.0
WWTP137 0.338 0.899 0.376 62.4
WWTP138 0.159 1.000 0.159 84.1
WWTP139 0.493 0.575 0.857 14.3
WWTP140 0.187 0.718 0.260 74.0
WWTP141 0.119 0.937 0.127 87.3
WWTP142 0.282 0.451 0.625 37.5
WWTP143 0.322 0.379 0.849 15.1
WWTP144 0.250 0.263 0.951 4.9
WWTP145 0.216 0.146 0.676 32.4
WWTP146 0.136 0.181 0.752 24.8
WWTP147 0.199 0.295 0.673 32.7
WWTP148 0.561 0.821 0.683 31.7
WWTP149 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP150 0.895 0.938 0.954 4.6
WWTP151 0.263 0.394 0.668 33.2
WWTP152 0.155 0.305 0.510 49.0
WWTP153 0.176 0.436 0.402 59.8
WWTP154 0.224 0.592 0.378 62.2
WWTP155 0.136 0.178 0.764 23.6
WWTP156 0.297 0.464 0.640 36.0
WWTP157 0.456 0.641 0.712 28.8
WWTP158 0.338 0.708 0.477 52.3
WWTP159 0.180 0.215 0.838 16.2
WWTP160 0.268 0.383 0.700 30.0
WWTP161 0.171 0.212 0.805 19.5
WWTP162 0.107 0.999 0.107 89.3
WWTP163 0.490 0.968 0.506 49.4
WWTP164 0.414 0.606 0.684 31.6
WWTP165 0.143 0.268 0.532 46.8
WWTP166 0.147 0.461 0.319 68.1
WWTP167 0.152 1.000 0.152 84.9
WWTP168 0.273 0.584 0.468 53.2
WWTP169 0.146 0.251 0.583 41.7
WWTP170 0.550 0.704 0.781 21.9
WWTP171 0.675 0.818 0.825 17.5
WWTP172 0.190 0.296 0.642 35.8
WWTP173 0.164 0.394 0.416 58.4
WWTP174 0.190 0.591 0.322 67.8
WWTP175 0.520 0.774 0.672 32.8
WWTP176 0.252 0.470 0.537 46.3
WWTP177 0.312 0.491 0.636 36.4

13
M. Molinos‑Senante
1830

Table 5  Energy efficiency WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
scores with respect to the respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
metafrontier and to the group (%)
frontier, technological gap ratio
and potential energy saving of WWTP1 0.281 0.846 0.333 66.7
wastewater treatment plants
WWTP2 0.291 0.831 0.350 65.0
(WWTPs) using activated
sludge with biological nitrogen WWTP3 0.740 0.873 0.848 15.2
and phosphorus removal as WWTP4 0.269 0.898 0.300 70.0
secondary treatment WWTP5 0.744 0.965 0.771 22.9
WWTP6 0.180 0.798 0.226 77.4
WWTP7 0.128 0.943 0.136 86.4
WWTP8 0.247 0.892 0.277 72.3
WWTP9 0.160 0.536 0.298 70.2
WWTP10 0.447 0.686 0.651 34.9
WWTP11 0.223 1.000 0.223 77.7
WWTP12 0.179 0.770 0.232 76.8
WWTP13 0.176 0.928 0.189 81.1
WWTP14 0.343 0.598 0.574 42.6
WWTP15 0.552 0.870 0.634 36.6
WWTP16 0.136 0.578 0.235 76.5
WWTP17 0.364 0.726 0.500 50.0
WWTP18 0.600 0.942 0.636 36.4
WWTP19 0.492 1.000 0.492 50.8
WWTP20 0.421 0.994 0.423 57.7
WWTP21 0.135 0.446 0.303 69.7
WWTP22 0.111 0.753 0.147 85.3
WWTP23 0.403 0.705 0.572 42.8
WWTP24 0.309 0.643 0.480 52.0
WWTP25 0.181 0.827 0.219 78.1
WWTP26 0.481 0.982 0.490 51.0
WWTP27 0.258 0.855 0.302 69.8
WWTP28 0.339 0.675 0.501 49.9
WWTP29 0.124 0.455 0.272 72.8
WWTP30 0.263 0.568 0.463 53.7
WWTP31 0.103 0.565 0.182 81.8
WWTP32 0.259 0.642 0.404 59.6
WWTP33 0.263 0.689 0.382 61.8
WWTP34 0.975 1.000 0.975 2.5
WWTP35 0.677 0.774 0.875 12.5
WWTP36 0.527 1.000 0.527 47.3
WWTP37 0.902 1.000 0.902 9.8
WWTP38 0.683 0.815 0.839 16.1
WWTP39 0.664 1.000 0.664 33.6
WWTP40 0.328 0.914 0.358 64.2
WWTP41 0.597 0.746 0.800 20.0
WWTP42 0.808 1.000 0.808 19.2
WWTP43 0.980 1.000 0.980 2.0

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1831

Table 6  Energy efficiency WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
scores with respect to the respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
metafrontier and to the group (%)
frontier, technological gap ratio
and potential energy saving of WWTP1 0.724 0.899 0.805 19.5
wastewater treatment plants
WWTP2 0.455 1.000 0.455 54.5
(WWTPs) using aerated lagoon
as secondary treatment WWTP3 0.101 0.622 0.162 83.8
WWTP4 0.146 0.276 0.529 47.1
WWTP5 0.107 0.764 0.140 86.0
WWTP6 0.167 0.290 0.576 42.4
WWTP7 0.581 0.716 0.812 18.8
WWTP8 0.400 0.593 0.675 32.5
WWTP9 0.245 1.000 0.245 75.5
WWTP10 0.213 0.650 0.328 67.2
WWTP11 0.178 0.450 0.396 60.4
WWTP12 0.496 0.870 0.570 43.0
WWTP13 0.421 0.879 0.479 52.1
WWTP14 0.101 0.101 1.000 0.0
WWTP15 0.890 0.945 0.942 5.8
WWTP16 0.138 0.367 0.376 62.4
WWTP17 0.191 0.211 0.907 9.3
WWTP18 0.298 0.298 1.000 0.0
WWTP19 0.161 0.269 0.599 40.1
WWTP20 0.129 0.442 0.292 70.8
WWTP21 0.126 0.196 0.643 35.7
WWTP22 0.243 0.243 1.000 0.0
WWTP23 0.129 0.211 0.611 38.9
WWTP24 0.210 0.830 0.253 74.7
WWTP25 0.247 0.471 0.525 47.5
WWTP26 0.586 0.742 0.790 21.0
WWTP27 0.152 0.353 0.432 56.8
WWTP28 0.141 0.486 0.290 71.0
WWTP29 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP30 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP31 0.813 0.813 1.000 0.0
WWTP32 0.199 0.821 0.242 75.8
WWTP33 0.335 0.569 0.589 41.1
WWTP34 0.150 0.238 0.629 37.1
WWTP35 0.691 0.880 0.785 21.5
WWTP36 0.413 1.000 0.413 58.7
WWTP37 0.192 0.495 0.388 61.2
WWTP38 0.135 0.279 0.483 51.7
WWTP39 0.565 0.810 0.698 30.2
WWTP40 0.108 0.230 0.472 52.8
WWTP41 0.183 0.218 0.836 16.4
WWTP42 0.102 0.352 0.290 71.0
WWTP43 0.520 1.000 0.520 48.0
WWTP44 0.530 0.833 0.636 36.4
WWTP45 0.665 1.000 0.665 33.5

13
M. Molinos‑Senante
1832

Table 7  Energy efficiency WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
scores with respect to the respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
metafrontier and to the group (%)
frontier, technological gap ratio
and potential energy saving of WWTP1 0.205 0.405 0.508 49.2
wastewater treatment plants
WWTP2 0.810 0.842 0.962 3.8
(WWTPs) using trickling filter
as secondary treatment WWTP3 0.144 0.610 0.236 76.4
WWTP4 0.362 0.750 0.483 51.7
WWTP5 0.511 0.786 0.650 35.0
WWTP6 0.809 1.000 0.809 19.2
WWTP7 0.290 0.878 0.330 67.0
WWTP8 0.362 0.804 0.450 55.0
WWTP9 0.470 0.734 0.640 36.0
WWTP10 0.254 1.000 0.254 74.6
WWTP11 0.261 0.802 0.326 67.4
WWTP12 0.408 0.835 0.489 51.1
WWTP13 0.512 0.976 0.524 47.6
WWTP14 0.384 0.405 0.948 5.2
WWTP15 0.336 0.709 0.474 52.6
WWTP16 0.099 0.944 0.105 89.5
WWTP17 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP18 0.352 0.511 0.689 31.1
WWTP19 0.793 0.975 0.813 18.7
WWTP20 0.732 0.877 0.835 16.5
WWTP21 0.404 1.000 0.404 59.6

Table 8  Energy efficiency WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
scores with respect to the respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
metafrontier and to the group (%)
frontier, technological gap
ratio and potential energy WWTP1 0.236 0.490 0.481 51.9
saving of wastewater treatment
WWTP2 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
plants (WWTPs) using
rotating biological contactor as WWTP3 0.466 0.799 0.583 41.7
secondary treatment WWTP4 0.240 0.308 0.779 22.1
WWTP5 0.313 0.328 0.955 4.5
WWTP6 0.896 0.929 0.964 3.6
WWTP7 0.548 0.696 0.788 21.2
WWTP8 0.505 0.646 0.782 21.8
WWTP9 0.423 0.546 0.775 22.5
WWTP10 0.774 1.000 0.774 22.6
WWTP11 0.387 1.000 0.387 61.4
WWTP12 0.166 0.175 0.950 5.0
WWTP13 0.339 0.511 0.664 33.6
WWTP14 0.490 0.509 0.962 3.8
WWTP15 0.314 0.417 0.753 24.7
WWTP16 0.637 1.000 0.637 36.3
WWTP17 0.545 0.708 0.770 23.0
WWTP18 0.338 0.338 1.000 0.0
WWTP19 0.787 0.852 0.924 7.6
WWTP20 0.307 0.536 0.573 42.7
WWTP21 0.715 0.768 0.931 6.9
WWTP22 0.276 1.000 0.276 72.4

13
Comparative energy efficiency of wastewater treatment technologies: a synthetic index… 1833

Table 8  (continued) WWTP Energy efficiency score Energy efficiency score Technology Potential
respect to the metafrontier respect to the group frontier gap ratio energy saving
(%)
WWTP23 0.490 0.490 1.000 0.0
WWTP24 0.253 0.898 0.281 71.9
WWTP25 0.542 0.551 0.984 1.6
WWTP26 0.565 0.629 0.898 10.2
WWTP27 0.421 0.463 0.909 9.1
WWTP28 0.405 0.410 0.988 1.2
WWTP29 0.358 0.396 0.904 9.6
WWTP30 0.123 0.156 0.784 21.6
WWTP31 0.177 0.246 0.717 28.3
WWTP32 0.568 0.806 0.705 29.5
WWTP33 0.163 0.163 1.000 0.0
WWTP34 0.115 0.170 0.675 32.5
WWTP35 0.547 0.547 1.000 0.0
WWTP36 0.308 0.308 1.000 0.0
WWTP37 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0
WWTP38 0.424 0.685 0.619 38.1
WWTP39 0.537 0.661 0.812 18.8
WWTP40 0.387 0.620 0.624 37.6
WWTP41 0.358 0.504 0.710 29.0
WWTP42 0.846 0.868 0.975 2.5
WWTP43 0.733 0.853 0.859 14.1
WWTP44 0.529 0.788 0.671 32.9
WWTP45 0.498 0.627 0.794 20.6

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