While a significant body of work on resource recovery technologies already exists, there was no holistic analysis of potential industry opportunities for resource recovery in Australia, identifying barriers to successful commercial deployment and pathways to realise the opportunities. This project has stimulated interest in resource recovery investment by producing an authoritative report that defines the industry opportunities for resource recovery in Australia, identifies the regulatory, commercial and other barriers to realising the opportunities, and considers approaches to overcome them. Using international and Australian examples, this project analysed the market, and considered factors that influence industry opportunities, such as value chains, social perception, risk aversion, technology development and deployment.


The project examined international and Australian case studies and found that increased pressure from population growth, higher demand for natural resources, rising costs and growing community expectations, will require the water industry to develop innovative and more efficient processes to optimise resource recovery from wastewater.
The report identified key reasons for the success of a number of successful resource recovery initiatives by undertaking economic analysis of resource recovery operations in Australia (dried and pelletised biosolid production for fertiliser by Barwon Water, Victoria) and overseas (struvite and other fertiliser production by Ostera partners in Oregon, USA, biomass production for fertiliser by Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, USA, and energy co-generation by East Bay Municipal Utility district, USA).
In addition, operations in Germany by Hamburg Wasser, in the UK by Scottish Water and in the Netherlands by TU Delft and DHV were considered as well as assessing the impact of technology breakthroughs on value creation using existing Australian research to identify resource recovery options for Australia over the next 20 years.
The report made key recommendations to convert industry interest in resource recovery to practice detailing a ‘real options approach’ to assessing resource recovery projects that incorporates a wide range of avoided costs and economic uncertainties, using probabilistic methodologies.
Other recommendations include focussing on:
• innovative business models that include private sector involvement
• ongoing participation in the development of new wastewater treatment technologies
• Regulatory recognition for resource recovery operations in the form of feed-in tariffs for energy generation and renewable energy incentives.

The report concluded that emerging energy-efficient process technologies, such as the generation of biogas from sewage and waste and cogeneration of electricity, appear to be economically viable for larger scales of wastewater treatment plant operation, nominally above 50ML/day.
The report also concluded that in some cases, the sales of surplus electricity generated at the plant and the sales of nitrogen and phosphorus resource recovery products, also add to the economic viability of the option, as does the revenue stream from the disposal of organic waste in the co-digestion case.


The water sector welcomed research’s investor’s perspective to the application of international resource recovery successes and their applicability to Australia’s unique circumstances. The model, produced by ATSE, used probabilistic methodologies to incorporate a wide range of avoided costs and economic uncertainties that need to be considered when assessing and investing in resource recovery opportunities.


Project manager: Dr Lauren Palmer, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)
Project leader: Professor John Burgess, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE)

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