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Craig Criddle: The case for replacing cracked pipes with smart sewers

​“What can we make and sell from wastewater?," asks a professor of civil and environmental engineering. Quite a bit.

manhole cover

| iStock / Victor Deschamps

With many of the 20th century’s water treatment plants nearing the end of their 40-year life cycles, there is tremendous opportunity in developing next-generation dynamic water resource recovery centers, says Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering Craig Criddle. “Can we turn a liability into an asset?” Criddle asks in a presentation during the Digital Cities Summit 2016. “Can we turn wastewater into something valuable? What can we make and sell from wastewater?”

Quite a bit, Criddle explains. Potable water itself is a valuable resource, but it’s also possible to generate compost, bioplastics and fish food. At the Codiga Resource Recovery Center, a pilot plant developed at Stanford, new anaerobic biotechnology treats sludge in way that produces rather than consumes energy. Beyond even that, there’s potentially a trove of information to be had: Criddle is developing a “smart sewer” that can sample the RNA and DNA in wastewater to derive information about pathogens, antibiotic resistance and other measures that could shine a new light on matters of community health.

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