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Sludge & Wastewater Treatment

In my university civil engineering days, I determined to focus on water and wastewater as a primary course of study. This probably had as much to do with the teaching skills of a particular professor in that department as it did the discipline itself, but isn’t that the way college tends to work? His name was Dr. Mark Hammer; you can probably Google him. He wrote our textbook. It had an orange cover in 1975.

Our senior wastewater treatment plant design class was especially memorable. I know! How could it not be memorable? We had about a dozen students in the class, and on the first day, Dr. Hammer saw the numbers and determined to teach the class the way he had always wanted; eliminate the textbook and look at case studies. Okay, that sounded fine, but had I just spent a wad on the textbook that we were not going to use? To be honest, it does look pretty nice sitting on my bookshelf. It’s in great shape.

That semester we looked at numerous waste treatment plants in southeast Nebraska. We took field trips. We talked to the plant operators. We investigated and tried to solve their operating issues. It was a magnificent semester.

Dr. Hammer would start each case study by telling us to always begin by asking one question – “What are you going to do with the sludge?” Essentially, sludge is the semi-solid byproduct (I worded that nicely, don’t you think?) left over at the end of the wastewater treatment process. It has to find a final resting place. It is a big deal. In his mind, the answer to this question basically determined all the process steps and design decisions that go into the treatment plant. Pretty riveting stuff, I agree.

To apply it to transmission line design, a similar question might be, “What are you going to use for the conductor?” To my way of thinking, this basically determines all the process steps and design decisions that go into the transmission line, including the constructability. A sampling of additional conductor-related questions that should be asked can include:

  • What is the required line capacity?
  • What is the voltage?
  • Are there fault current restraints?
  • What are the sag characteristics?
  • How much will it creep over time?
  • Will the line be subject to galloping? Vibration?
  • Will the line be subject to extreme environmental events? (Wind, ice, snow, etc.)
  • Are birds in danger if they bump into the line? Do they need to see it?
  • Will the line be near an airport or helipad? Will it need marker balls?
  • Will the conductor require special hardware?
  • Is the line in a corrosive environment?
  • Will the line create radio interference?
  • Will the line make noise due to corona?
  • Will the line need a shield wire for lightning?
  • Does the shield require fiber optic communications capability?

So, when you’re thinking about your next wastewater treatment plant, you need to consider the sludge. When you’re thinking about your next electrical transmission line, you need to know the conductor.

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.