Europe’s largest wastewater treatment research facility using bacteria

Scientists from Newcastle University and partners from Northumbrian Water have opened a new facility that will play a key role in improving how sewage is treated.

Based at Northumbrian Water’s sewage treatment plant at Birtley, near Gateshead, the Biological Engineering: Wastewater Innovation at Scale (BEWISe) facility will host other researchers from around the world to help speed up the translation and uptake of new innovations by the water sector.  It will do this by speeding up the transition from existing energy-intensive treatment processes to low carbon alternatives with lower running costs.

At BEWISe, the University and Northumbrian Water Group are working together to accelerate innovation in sustainable wastewater treatment and experimentation with low-energy biological treatment technologies, creating opportunities for credible research at scale. BEWISe is available to academia and industry to make innovations in wastewater treatment a reality for the water sector. 

It operates with a quadrillion microbes, or one million billions. This is 10,000 times more than can be used in the laboratory and scientists will use BEWISe to run experiments exploring different types and combinations of bacteria to identify how they behave in different sewage treatment processes.

Professor Russell Davenport, Principal Investigator for BEWISe and Professor of Engineering for the Environment and Human Health, Newcastle University, said: “Our long-standing partnership with Northumbrian Water has led to the development of this world-leading research space that supports cutting-edge solutions for sustainable wastewater treatment.

“The opening of BEWISe enables us to set a new global standard for wastewater research. The new facility allows experimental investigation of water engineering innovations across a range of scales and underpins work that is scientifically rigorous and credible.”

Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive Officer, Northumbrian Water Group said: “Having the BEWISe facility as a hub at our Birtley Treatment Works is a great driving factor for innovation and research.

“It was clear from the start that this would be a fantastic opportunity to collaborate and work in strong partnership with others in the region and beyond.

“We have been incredibly fortunate to partner with Newcastle University on this project. Not only have they been generally great to work with, but we were also able to share our values and our objectives.

“I can’t wait to see how the facility progresses over the coming years, and to see how it plays a part in some of the most forward-thinking innovations of the future.”

The £1.2 million EPSRC-funded BEWISe plant is the largest facility of its type in Europe. Newcastle University and Northumbrian Water have contributed a further £0.5 million to its value.

Applicants who are in the process of applying for research grants can also request a letter of support to aid their grant applications.