Bioresources Production Planning Platform

A proven advanced mathematical optimisation solution which is delivering significant bottom-line value to several UK water companies. The solution is sustainably reducing costs, improving asset utilisation, increasing energy generation and ensuring process resilience.

The bioresources sector in the UK is one of the most advanced bioresource sectors in the world, with in excess of 80% of raw sludge being treated with anaerobic digestion with a mature framework to sustainably recycle most of the final product on agricultural land. However, within Water and Wastewater Companies (WaSCs) the internal management process has not evolved at the same pace as the sludge processing technologies. The complex bioresource operations are often managed by siloed business units with different, and at times, competing targets. This leads to the sub-optimal operation of the bioresource system and often unclear decision-making accountabilities across the process. BMA has worked with several companies to implement a Production Planning Platform for Bioresources. By applying decades of experience optimising manufacturing and supply chain processes, our advanced analytics cloud platform enables systemically optimised decision making, providing recommendations that continually optimise the end-to-end bioresources value chain. The system is already operating in a number of major UK WaSCs and has been a key enabler in decreasing OpEx, identifying process constraints, facilitating communication between business units and has led to more stable and efficient operations overall.


Sewage sludge is a valuable by-product of wastewater treatment and the further treatment of sludge is a statutory requirement for WaSCs. A large number of wastewater treatment works are distributed throughout the UK, producing raw sludge which is transported to a far fewer number of centralised sludge treatment facilities. Discounting the smaller plants (which treat wastewater for less than 2,000 people), there are in excess of 1,600 works in the UK which produce a total of circa 1.5 million tons of raw sludge every year.

By utilising conversion technologies, WaSCs are able to generate electrical energy with a combined installed power capacity of 208 MWe. Treated bioresources can also be spread on land for agricultural use, displacing synthetic fertilizers and bringing additional benefits such as replenishment of organic carbon. The resource recovery potential of sludge can also play a pivotal role in enabling the NetZero ambitions of the sector.

The Challenge

The dispersed geographical nature of these assets makes the bioresources value chain a complex network, where logistics, treatment and disposal costs all contribute to the overall OpEx required to safely dispose of the final product. In addition to this complexity, planners must consider different levels of treatment efficiency and cost, proactive maintenance, unplanned events and shutdowns. Recent experience during the COVID crisis has also demonstrated how lockdowns can significantly affect the redistribution of sludge demand. These factors all impact the planning decisions for sludge movement and treatment. Given the value of sludge as a raw material for energy generation, the opportunity for cost reduction and value creation is significant. Ensuring the correct utilisation of assets is a critical enabler.

Most of the WaSCs rely on coordination between individuals belonging to different business units to deliver daily and weekly plans. The siloed business units often plan and attempt to optimise the daily and weekly activities through multiple unconnected spreadsheets. However, the number of variables and permutations and the volatility of site reliability and processing capacity simply makes the task of calculating the optimal plan an impossible task. This inorganic process means that there is no unique direction of travel for the business and decisions are taken without a structured framework. This not only results in sub-optimal operations, but also makes a system performance review difficult, leaving the companies without a clear understanding of where to target efficiency campaigns.


BMA developed a cloud hosted production planning platform that is tailored to meet the requirements of the bioresources sector. This solution uses a combination of best available technologies for advanced mathematical optimisation, database management, user interface and dashboard reporting. These are all combined in a single platform which allows planners and other stakeholders to confidently take unbiased decisions based on the latest available information.

All the key inputs are represented in the underlying solution, including demand forecasts, logistics information, capacity constraints, process efficiency and fixed / variable costs. As assets become unavailable through planned or unplanned events, the changes to the baseline are implemented and stored, allowing the planner to re-calculate the “next best optimal plan”, without losing sight of the original design value. The output is then represented both in tabular and graphical form, using intuitive and interactive Power BI dashboards that not only indicate the state of the network, but also provide insights on where opportunity value can be extracted from inefficient activity or constraints.

Example Benefits

  • Proven to: - reduce end-to-end operational costs; - increase energy yield; and - increase asset availability.
  • Improved understanding of unit cost accumulation across the system.
  • Identification of constraints (e.g., process, ways of working, regulatory) and the associated ‘opportunity value’ which is the value that can be realised across the end-to-end system by removing the constraint.
  • Better understanding and visibility of the ‘cost of failure’.
  • Ability to respond rapidly to unforeseen events.
  • Ability to optimise the best sequence of maintenance interventions.
  • Assessment of compliance risk at a network level.
  • Multiple scenario evaluation to test new solutions, operating models or hypotheses.

The Bioresource Production Planning Platform is already a business as usual solution for several WaSCs. Where benefits are measured, the expected return on investment is between 6 and 12 months, based on OpEx savings only. Additional benefits can be extracted by simulating investments and measuring opportunity value.

Other Applications

The platform is built to be easily scalable, fit with additional capabilities or consider decisions of a more tactical or strategic nature. One of the greatest advantages of operating within a production planning environment is that the same asset data and connectivity can be used for different purposes. Typically, this allows integration with strategic decision making, interrogating the model for investment decision making and asset rationalisation opportunities, within the context of changing demand patterns, environmental conditions or regulatory constraints. Several UK WASCs have therefore used the solution at a strategic level to support their 5-year business plan submissions to Ofwat.

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