Most members of the Virginia Tech-Blacksburg community probably don't think much about wastewater – or where it goes after it leaves campus.

The Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority thinks about it a lot. The Lower Stroubles Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, located seven miles southwest of campus, is employing best-in-class, highly sustainable treatment procedures.

The plant treats approximately 6 million gallons of wastewater from Virginia Tech, the Town of Blacksburg, and surrounding areas in Montgomery County. Virginia Tech is a sanitation authority board member.

In 2007, the treatment plant became one of the first municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Virginia to be awarded Extraordinary Environmental Enterprise status in the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. This recognition was based on the Authority’s commitment to the principles of environmental excellence and sustainability.

As a demonstration of the continuing commitment to these principles, in 2018, the authority became the first wastewater treatment facility in the Commonwealth of Virginia to install an autothermal thermophilic aerobic digestion (ATAD) process to produce Class A Exceptional Quality biosolids. The ATAD process was selected by the authority after an extensive evaluation of multiple solids treatment options. 

ATAD is an advanced treatment process that uses high temperatures generated by the biosolids to kill pathogens and reduce odors in wastewater solids. It produces a fine granular product much like rich top soil. These Class A biosolids meet the most stringent federal and state requirements and can be used in a wide range of applications, including as a soil amendment, use in landscaping, and as a lawn or agricultural nutrient.

The solids generated during the treatment process were previously incinerated, which required the authority to purchase, store, and use thousands of gallons of fuel oil each year. The incinerator ash was captured and disposed of in the local landfill. The new ATAD facilities replaced the solids incinerator that was constructed in 1979. The new facilities were also constructed to accommodate future population and university enrollment growth.

Installation of the ATAD treatment facilities was made possible through a $13.3 million dollar investment by the authority. The successful implementation of the process was the result of a collaborative approach by the authority board and staff; the design engineer, CHA Consulting Inc.; the ATAD process manufacturer, Thermal Process Systems Inc.; and the construction contractor, Ulliman Shutte. The Class A certification was provided by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality after completion of an extensive testing program.

“The successful implementation of ATAD can be attributed to the strong partnership among the Town of Blacksburg, Virginia Tech, and the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority, as well as a shared pledge for finding innovative and sustainable ways to deliver public services,” said Sherwood Wilson, vice president for operations at Virginia Tech, and sanitation authority board member.

ATAD blowers that provide oxygen to the ATAD process
Blowers that supply oxygen to the aerobic digestion system.

“The decision to invest in the ATAD system reinforces the town and Virginia Tech’s commitment to sustainability through implementing state of the art processes which add value both fiscally and environmentally to our community,” said Blacksburg Deputy Town Manager and authority board member Chris Lawrence.

Currently, the authority provides the biosolids to the New River Resource Authority landfill for use as a daily cover material; this reduces the amount of natural soil that must be excavated from areas near the landfill. The authority is also evaluating other possible beneficial uses for the material. 

Michael Vaught, director of the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority said, “The new process represents a significant improvement in our solids treatment and handling processes by eliminating the need for incinerator fuel, significantly reducing our air emissions, and providing opportunities for a variety of beneficial uses for the treated biosolids. In addition, this advanced treatment technology will enable us to stay in front of the increasingly more stringent biosolids-use regulations and maintain our excellent compliance record.”

Click here to view the Town of Blacksburg press release.

For specific questions regarding the Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority and the ATAD process, please contact Michael Vaught, Blacksburg-VPI Sanitation Authority executive director at 540-552-6940, or Heather Browning, Town of Blacksburg community relations manager, at 540-443-1091.

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