Bruno Barillon : the wastewater plant of tomorrow

Bruno Barillon, R&D Manager at the CIRSEE Treatment and Recovery Centre

What are the wastewater treatment systems in use today?

The most common is the activated-sludge treatment system. It is based on the principle of using bacteria to break down the organic material – principally carbon and nutriments such as nitrogen and phosphorus – in wastewater. This method requires oxygen and, so, energy, as well as chemical reagents in some cases.

What will change in the wastewater plant of tomorrow?

The wastewater plant of tomorrow will limit its energy needs. It will seek to be self-sufficient, and even an energy producer. This will be accomplished, for instance, by recovering the energy in wastewater. Why use air to oxidize carbon in wastewater and, in so doing, turn it into CO2 when the carbon could be recovered and reused in the form of biogas? It will also involve recovering and/or recycling scarce compounds such as phosphorus and certain metals in order to manage those resources sustainably. The wastewater plant of tomorrow must also meet the new challenges posed by the treatment of micro-pollutants (priority, emerging substances), so as to protect receiving bodies of water, and meet and anticipate national and European regulations. In a more general sense, the new-generation wastewater plant must limit its environment impacts (in particular as regards greenhouse gas emissions), offer new features (such as water reuse and energy production), blend better into the urban landscape (in terms of building design and landscaping), and gain greater social acceptance: wastewater plants must shed the negative image they sometimes have (as generators of visual and olfactory nuisances) and become a source of added value in the centres of our cities.

What are the targets of your projects and research? What is the Group’s research and innovation focus?

In recent years, our research has in large part focused on micro-pollutants (characterisation of their flows and impacts on receiving bodies of water and resources, development of appropriate treatment methods, etc.), on energy optimisation in our existing processes, and on evaluation of the environmental impact of our processes. Today, in the context of the research programme “Tomorrow’s Wastewater Plant”, our research activities naturally focus on developing new treatment processes so as to meet the challenge of energy production and more sustainable resource management. Not forgetting a more sophisticated management of our existing wastewater plants (“smart” plants) and more integrated management of the overall sewage treatment system, including both the grid network and wastewater plants. Lastly, we are also working on the development of more decentralised and compact systems that can meet contamination treatment needs at the source or on the scale of a neighbourhood.

How will you achieve your goal? Do you collaborate with external partners, with public or private entities? If so, what are the benefits?

My mission, which is to conduct R&D projects that further the Group’s defined strategic goals, is accomplished with both internal and Group-external financing. We have the advantage of a well-established network of scientists, and we regularly collaborate with external partners on national (with funding from Water Agencies, ONEMA, ANR, FUI,…) and international projects (with funding from Climate KIC, SPIRE,…).

Our ultimate goal is not fundamental research but the ability to propose services to our customers. To do so, we need to adapt innovative and breakthrough technical solutions to our business lines. Our collaboration with key external partners gives us access to a network of internationally-renowned scientific experts, while placing us on the cutting edge of innovation in the areas of water and waste.


credits : SUEZ – Aquaviva


As part of a research program conducted by the SUEZ International Water and Waste Research Centre (CIRSEE) on the “STEP (Waste water treatment plants) of tomorrow”, Cetaqua, the technical R&D centre of AGBAR, a SUEZ ENVIRONNEMENT subsidiary in Spain, has launched the LIFE NECOVERY project (“Nutrient and energy recovery in wastewater treatment plants by pre-concentration and adsorption technologies”) in partnership with Avecom, a spin-off of the Belgian Ghent University. Its objective is to develop a prototype of an innovative treatment process that concentrates carbon to maximize biogas production, and thus energy production, and to demonstrate the environmental and economic feasibility, in order to recover nutrients for use as fertilizer. Moreover, the cooperation with external scientific and technical experts is essential to develop projects. Cetaqua is based on an open innovation model and collaborates with the best international universities, with a high focus in local and national entities, and research centres. The result is this successful cooperation with scientific entities and external partners that identify technologies that are particularly useful for the future of the Group.