Life cycle assessment of vertical and horizontal flow constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment considering nitrogen and carbon greenhouse gas emissions

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Life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to compare the environmental impacts of vertical flow constructed wetlands (VFCW) and horizontal flow constructed wetlands (HFCW). The LCAs include greenhouse gas (N2O, CO2 and CH4) emissions. Baseline constructed wetland designs are compared to different treatment performance scenarios and to conventional wastewater treatment at the materials acquisition, assembly and operation life stages. The LCAs suggest that constructed wetlands have less environmental impact, in terms of resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The VFCW is a less impactful configuration for removing total nitrogen from domestic wastewater. Both wetland designs have negligible impacts on respiratory organics, radiation and ozone. Gaseous emissions, often not included in wastewater LCAs because of lack of data or lack of agreement on impacts, have the largest impact on climate change. Nitrous oxide accounts for the increase in impact on respiratory inorganic, and the combined acidification/eutrophication category. The LCAs were used to assess the importance of nitrogen removal and recycling, and the potential for optimizing nitrogen removal in constructed wetlands. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

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Water Research