Ghana progressing on pilot project for wastewater reuse 

A GNA Feature by Christabel Addo 

Accra, March 2, GNA – Ghana is advancing in a pilot project to promote the wider uptake of biochar, a fuel resource produced from sludge recovered from wastewater treatment, and the reuse of treated wastewater for urban agriculture. 

If successful, the sustainable production and distribution of these products through an effective value chain would provide an alternative for wood fuel (in the case of the biochar) for use in the kilns of textile and chemical industries to reduce dangerous emissions, deforestation and enhance environmental safety. 

Wastewater reuse, on the other hand, would reduce pressure on the amount of surface water resources used for urban agriculture and control the health and quality risks associated with untreated drain water for vegetable crop irrigation in the cities.  

The Project, titled: “Achieving wider uptake of water-smart solutions (WIDER UPTAKE),” is built around a set of innovative circular economy solutions, co-developed by water utilities and private businesses from industry sectors with high water consumption, high use of material resources and energy, like the agriculture industry, building and manufacturing materials industry and energy supply. 

It is a Horizon 2020-funded innovation action under the European Union. In Ghana, it is being implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (CSIR-STEPRI), Institute of Industrial Research (CSIR-IIR), and Water Research Institute (CSIR-WRI), in partnership with the Sewerage Systems Ghana Limited (SSGL) over four years (2020-2024).  

 Feedback received at a three-day workshop, organised by the STEPRI for key members of the Community of Practice in Accra, indicated that a lot had already been achieved under the project specifications, which included broadened stakeholder collaboration. 

 The objective of the workshop was to solicit for broader key stakeholder input on the methodology for monitoring the quality and health risks associated with the solutions (biochar and treated wastewater); discuss a framework for developing a business model around the solutions; and a set of indicators for assessing the sustainability and water-smartness of the solutions. 

Dr Herman Helness, the Global Coordinator of the WIDER UPTAKE Project, says a water-smart society is one in which the true value of water is appreciated, and all available water sources are managed in a way that scarcity and pollution are avoided, and close loops and cooperation are created to foster a circular economy and optimal resource efficiency. 

Mr Ahmed Issahaku, the Head of Laboratory, Quality Control and Research at the Sewerage Systems Ghana Limited, operators of the Mudor Treatment Plant, in a status report, said renovations and restructuring of the treatment plant at the Lavender Hill in Accra, were almost complete to meet the project specifications. 

 “Recovery systems from fouling had been completed to allow for the restart of the supply of treated wastewater to the demonstration site for urban agriculture by the end of February 2023,” he said. 

The plant is accredited under the ISO 17025-2017, and regulated by the Ghana Standards Authority’s regulation GS1212:2019 for environmental protection from effluent discharged into the environment, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard for wastewater reuse. 

 Dr William Owusu Oduro, Deputy-Director, CSIR-Institute of Industrial Research and team member of the WIDER UPTAKE Project, said key characteristic consideration were being given to the calorific value, combustion, (heating and burning levels), emission levels, environmental safety, as well as end user safety in the plan for monitoring and control of health and quality risk of the biochar produced by SSGL. 

 An initial analysis of the biochar produced, revealed high content of sulphur, lead and ash, but formula for the preparation of the biochar is being refined together with the development of a firm plan for effective monitoring of emissions from the SSGL Plant. 

 Dr Oduro said in the absence of an explicit regulation on resources recovered from wastewater treatment in Ghana, the WHO standard for cook environment has been adopted for producing biochar.  

Ms Sigrid Damman, a member of the project team from SINTEF in Norway, says Ghana’s current position as an emerging and circular economy, with immense climate change challenges affecting freshwater resources, land use, rapid urbanisation and population growth rates, and SDG targets, are, therefore, indications of a strong potential for the patronage of these water-smart solutions. 

   However, the absence of a circular economy policy in Ghana contributes to limited collaboration across all levels including public-private partnerships, foreign aid, and research institutions as advocates. 

  Hence the industrial symbiosis aspect under WIDER UPTAKE is crucial in making policy recommendations. This will help the creation of a clear roadmap for widespread implementation of water-smart mutual solutions for the recovery and reuse of wastewater products, based on circular economy principles. 

Presently the use of wastewater from drains for agriculture is very popular in urban areas in the country, especially for vegetable farming. 

Mr Mark Akrong, a project member from CSIR-WRI, explains that wastewater use from drains for urban crop irrigation poses great health risks to consumers of such produce due to their contamination with heavy metals and bacteria.  

 Hence, an alternative source of water for crop irrigation would not only reduce these health risks, but also improve the market value of the produce for higher profits for farmers, he said.         

 Mr Akrong said progress have been made under the project, to develop monitoring and assessment procedures to ensure quality and control health risks. 

The data collected would provide feedback  to the Ghana standards Authority for the development of the right standards for wastewater reuse. 

 Dr Justina Onumah, a Project team member, STEPRI, stressed the importance of forming new partnerships, and building trust among collaborators through the effective sharing of data. 

 She suggested that other sources of the wastewater supply be sought for, to prevent over-reliance on the Sewerage Systems Ghana Limited. 

She urged the media to increase advocacy, public education on the development of a circular economy policy, and the acceptance of biochar and crops irrigated with the treated wastewater for use and consumption after research has proven their safety. 

Dr Gordon Akon-Yamga, the Coordinator of the WIDER UPTAKE Project in Ghana at STEPRI, gave a presentation on Ghana’s adoption of the Triple Layered Business Model Canvas (TLBMC), which was an expansion of an existing one originated by Oster Walder and Pigneur (2010). 

He said the improved TLBMC had added environmental and social layers to the original economic layer, with each of these levels having nine components to be used as bases to collect information that will lead to the development of a business model for water-smart solutions. 

Dr Wilhemina Quaye, the Director, STEPRI, said the project had both a global and local identity and was geared towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in areas including water, sanitation and partnerships. 

She said WIDER UPTAKE had been an ideal learning field for the Institute, allowing for broader collaboration with existing and new private sector players, and enhancing the in-house capacities of researchers, as well as strengthening the organisational training of its key staff. 

The countries involved in the WIDER UPTAKE Project are Ghana, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, and Czech Republic, with each demonstrating solutions from wastewater treatment.