Municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) play an indispensable role in improving environmental water quality in urban areas. Existing WWTPs, however, are an important source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and may not be able to treat increasingly complicated wastewater or meet stringent environmental standards. These WWTPs can be updated to address these challenges, and different technologies are available but with potentially different environmental implications. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a widely used approach to identify alternatives with lower environmental footprint. In this study, LCA was applied to an actual urban WWTP, considering four scenarios involving upgrading and energy-resource recovery. The environmental performance with respect to life cycle GHG emissions and eutrophication impact was analyzed. The environmental benefits of reduced water pollution and energy and material displacement associated with energy-resource recovery process were also considered. The results showed tradeoffs among the four scenarios. Although upgrading the studied WWTP would meet discharge standard for total phosphorus and reduce total eutrophication impact by about 19%, it would increase GHG emissions by at least 16%. Besides, the energy-resource recovery mode for existing WWTP (S2) performs the best in terms of GHG emissions. For different biogas utilization methods, combined heat and power (CHP) system is superior to the existing method of delivering biogas to gas grid, in terms of energy recovery or reduction of GHG emissions and eutrophication impact. Our research results may provide a reference for plant managers to select the most environmentally friendly upgrade scheme and energy-resource recovery technique for future upgrade projects.

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