Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Qiong Zhang


Carbon footprint, Energy impact factors, Integrated resource recovery, Life cycle assessment, Water and wastewater treatment


Water and wastewater treatment is a critical service provided for protecting human health and the environment. Over the past decade, increasing attention has been placed on energy consumption in water and wastewater systems for the following reasons: (1) Water and energy are two interrelated resources. The nexus between water and energy can intensify the crises of fresh water and fossil fuel shortages; (2) The demand of water/wastewater treatment services is expected to continue to increase with increasing population, economic development and land use change in the foreseeable future; and (3) There is a great potential to mitigate energy use in water and wastewater systems by recovering resources in wastewater treatment systems. As a result, the goal of this dissertation study is to assess the life cycle energy use of both water supply systems and wastewater treatment systems, explore the potential of integrated resource recovery to reduce energy consumption in wastewater systems, and understand the major factors impacting the life cycle energy use of water systems.

To achieve the goal, an input-output-based hybrid embodied energy model was developed for calculating life cycle energy in water and wastewater systems in the US. This approach is more comprehensive and less labor intensive than the traditional life cycle assessment. Additionally, this model is flexible in terms of data availability. It can give a rough estimation of embodied energy in water systems with limited data input. Given more site specific data, the model can modify the embodied energy of different energy paths involved in water related sectors.

Using the input-output-based hybrid embodied energy model, the life cycle energy of a groundwater supply system (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and a surface water supply system (Tampa, Florida) was compared. The two systems evaluated have comparable total energy embodiments based on unit water production. However, the onsite energy use of the groundwater supply system is approximately 27% greater than the surface water supply system. This was primarily due to more extensive pumping requirements. On the other hand, the groundwater system uses approximately 31% less indirect energy than the surface water system, mainly because of fewer chemicals used for treatment. The results from this and other studies were also compiled to provide a relative comparison of embodied energy for major water supply options. The comparison shows that desalination is the most energy intensive option among all the water sources. The embodied energy and benefits of reclaimed water depend on local situations and additional treatment needed to ensure treated wastewater suitable for the desired application.

A review was conducted on the current resource recovery technologies in wastewater treatment systems. It reveals that there are very limited life cycle studies on the resource recovery technologies applied in the municipal wastewater treatment systems and their integrations. Hence, a life cycle study was carried out to investigate the carbon neutrality in a state-of-art wastewater treatment plant in Tampa, FL. Three resource recovery methods were specifically investigated: onsite energy generation through combined heat and power systems, nutrient recycling through biosolids land application, and water reuse for residential irrigation. The embodied energy and the associated carbon footprint were estimated using the input-output-based hybrid embodied energy model and carbon emission factors. It was shown that the integrated resource (energy, nutrient and water) recovery has the potential to offset all the direct operational energy; however, it is not able to offset the total embodied energy of the treatment plant to achieve carbon neutrality. Among the three resource recovery methods, water reuse has the highest potential of offsetting carbon footprint, while nutrient recycling has the lowest.

A final application of the model was to study on the correlation between embodied energy in regional water supply systems and demographic and environmental characteristics. It shows that energy embodied in water supply systems in a region is related to and can be estimated by population, land use patterns, especially percentage of urban land and water source, and water sources. This model provides an alternative way to quickly estimate embodied energy of water supply in a region. The estimated embodied energy of water supply can further be used as a supporting tool for decision making and planning.