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Water and energy are closely connected and both are very important for human development. Waste-water treatment plants (WWTPs) are central to water-energy interactions as they consume energy to remove pollutants and thus reduce the human gray water footprint on the natural water environment. In this work, we quantified energy consumption in 9 different WWTPs in south China, with different treatment processes, objects, and capacities. The energy intensity in most of these WWTPs is in the range of 0.4-0.5 kWh/m(3) in 2014. Footprint methodologies were used in this paper to provide insight into the environmental changes that result from VVWTPs. A new indicator "gray water footprint reduction" is proposed based on the notion of gray water footprint to better assess the role of WWTPs in reducing human impacts on water resources. We find that higher capacity and appropriate technology of the WWTPs will result in higher gray water footprint reduction. On average, 6.78 m(3) gray water footprint is reduced when 1 m(3) domestic sewage is treated in WWTPs in China. 13.38 L freshwater are required to produce the 0.4 kWh electrical input needed for treating 1 m(3) domestic wastewater, and 0.23 kg CO2 is emitted during this process. The wastewater characteristics, treatment technologies as well as management systems have a major impact on the efficiency of energy utilization in reducing gray water footprint via these WWTPs. The additional climate impact associated with wastewater treatment should be considered in China due to the enormous annual wastewater discharge. Policy suggestions are provided based on results in this work and the features of China's energy and water distribution. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.