Realizing the environmental potential of the East Alexandria wastewater treatment plant
According to a very recent report by UN-Habitat from 2023 wastewater reuse, treatment and reclamation alone has been estimated to cause an average of 56 percent of the GHG emissions in the water industry globally every year. Consequently, using the sludge by capturing the related GHG emissions allows for significant GHG emission reductions, whilst increasing the energy efficiency of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) at the same time. In addition, treated wastewater will become more and more important for countries that face extremely high water stress already with the tendency to increase, such as Egypt – using treated wastewater in the agriculture sector and for other purposes. Finally, WWTPs need to become more resilient against an increasing risk of floodings caused or exacerbated by climate change effects, for example, which applies to the case of the East Alexandria WWTPs.
Wastewater management under a changing climate in Egypt
Egypt has experienced sustained population growth over the last decades, accompanied by rapid urbanization leading to decreasing quality of public infrastructure and services in Egypt’s major cities, particularly in Alexandria. Urbanization, population growth, and inadequate wastewater management all have important impacts on the level of Egypt’s Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions. Concurrently, Egypt is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as declining precipitation levels, changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and flooding, especially in the Nile Delta.
The East Alexandria WWTP, located next to Lake Maryut, which lies 3 meters below sea level, has already experienced operational difficulties due to flooding during heavy storms. Investments are required to modify the existing operational pumping station to make it resilient to flooding. Sludge methane capture and energy recovery will contribute to climate mitigation through the generation of renewable energy.
The East Alexandria plant and the planned, current extension
The plant is the largest WWTPs in Alexandria, serving over 3 million people with a total capacity of 800,000 m3/day. The planned extension project comprises two sludge mixing and transfer tanks (125 m3 each), gas holders (5,000 m3), four-floor sludge digestion building (footprint area of 380 m2 and built-up area of 1,480 m2), digester tank (16,000 m3), digested sludge storage tank (2 x 1,250 m3), waste gas burner, biogas treatment unit, boilers building, and a powerhouse. 60 % of the electricity consumption of the plant is generated from the sludge digestion process and the resulting methane gas production and utilization, thus reducing GHG emissions as well as the external energy needs - improving the plant’s energy efficiency at the same time.
Source: The Arab Contractors
The contributions of wastewater management plants to Egypt’s climate strategies and its NDC
Wastewater management and WWTPs are included among the top priorities in the country’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) from 2022. Water stress is expected to exacerbate in Egypt due to climate change impacts, water pollution, and geopolitical factors. Treated water can contribute to increased resilience and adaptation to climate change and its impacts by providing an additional source of water, thus improving the economic situation for fishery, agriculture and forestry and tourism in the area (here Alexandria Governorate), for example.
Plants like the Alexandria WWTP are part of the government’s plans to expand the coverage of municipal and industrial wastewater tertiary treatment infrastructure and rehabilitate existing facilities, utilize treated wastewater and grey water, and recover sewage sludge for recycling and energy use or generation. The construction of 215 water treatment facilities (design capacity of 4365 thousand m3 daily) and sewage plants of total design capacity of 7250 thousand m3 daily under three phases by 2030 is planned.
Further environmental benefits of the East Alexandria WWTP will be supporting the depollution of Lake Maryut and the Mediterranean Sea, and it is expected to improve the health and environmental situation of the people living in the Governorate of Alexandria. For example, green spaces and sustainable parks in new cities are planned as part of the wastewater management strategy in general referred to in the NDC. These will be irrigated with treated wastewater to act as carbon sinks to improve quality of life for citizens and reduce negative health impacts.
Making the East Alexandria’s wastewater treatment plant extension happen
The materialization of the adaptation, mitigation and further environmental benefits requires to assess the climate change impacts of the WWTP in Alexandria - looking at Egypt’s national climate action priorities as laid out in the updated NDC and see whether the project’s (extension) objectives are in line with these priorities. First, a GHG assessment of the WWTP construction and operation needs to be conducted, using the Energy Performance and Carbon Emissions Assessment and Monitoring Tool (ECAM) tool to determine the carbon footprints of the selected solutions, to select the most cost-effective and less emitting scenario. Second, potential climate change impacts or related risks to the plant need to be investigated as part of the overall compliance check. Overall, the alignment of the plant and its extension with the Paris Agreement, local legislation and the Egyptian NDC is assessed.
All this is done as part of studying the overall feasibility of the extension of the East Alexandria’s WWTP, which is conducted by SEURECA and its partners Artelia and Nodalis with Climatekos acting as climate change specialist alongside Artelia. Such well-designed and -planned WWTPs or their extensions are much needed to make the described adaptation and mitigation impacts and other environmental benefits happen. The abovementioned report by UN-Habitat finds that abound WWTPs have been constructed worldwide but are dysfunctional or not functioning at all. Furthermore, the availability of financial resources has been identified as a major hurdle in the development of wastewater management services.
With ODA being an important source of funding and a lever for further investments in wastewater management, in countries like Egypt, Louis Perroy, Director at Climatekos, pointed out that “further public and private finance is needed to address the wastewater and wastewater management challenges” when looking at the next pledging round for the Blue Mediterranean Partnership at COP 28 in December 2023 in Dubai. This partnership mainly supports Egypt, next to Jordan and Morocco, including wastewater treatment aside from other blue economy priority areas. He also expressed the wish that “this extension of the East Alexandria WWTP sets the bar and the benchmark for other WWTPs or their extensions in Egypt and elsewhere in the MENA region. Rapid implementation of wastewater management and related climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are needed to meet the local and national NDC targets”.
Climatekos gGmbH is an independent social enterprise in the field of environment and development focusing on international climate protection.