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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Stephanie Drenten

Understanding the viability of sewer waste water heat recovery systems

Sewage wastewater heat recovery (WWHR) is the act of recovering heat from a wastewater stream and re-utilising the heat to provide heating or hot water. The process is used as a carbon and energy saving technology in many countries but currently has limited UK installations. With only one UK application, which lacks published performance reports, and with a general lack of sewage system operational data within the UK, it is uncertain if VVWHR can operate in the UK, if it can be widely adopted, and what benefits can be seen from its operation.


By investigating the technical and social factors potentially affecting WWHR's adoption or lack of adoption in the UK, this research aims to understand whether the UK provides a suitable environment to utilise WWHR. A review of literature provides an integrated technical and social framework to assess the usability of the technology. Then, case studies and interviews test technological viability while discovering potential social factors influencing WWHR's adoption. Finally, a questionnaire for UK wastewater companies investigates social viability by testing the previously discovered social factors.


The research indicates that WWHR is feasible within the UK, but factors external to the technical performance of the equipment may hamper its adoption. Many of these factors appear to be due to limited understanding of the technology's operational ability and reli ability. Additionally, almost all application sites require partnerships between wastewater companies and heat end users. Therefore, further work should focus on proving the technology's operational abilities as well as understanding how to make the environment more conducive to wastewater company/end user partnerships.