La Feyssine: facilities that predict the future of wastewater treatment plants

La Feyssine Platform (69) © G. Maisonneuve / Irstea
La Feyssine Platform (69) © G. Maisonneuve / Irstea

Irstea has over 40 years of experience in domestic wastewater treatment and recovery and is the preferred scientific contact for sanitation professionals. Since 2011, Irstea, in partnership with the city of Lyon, has run a research and testing platform that is unique in France. Linked to the La Feyssine (69) wastewater treatment plant, it includes cutting-edge facilities to support development and meet the sector’s new challenges.

Improving the quality of treated water to preserve the natural environment into which it is discharged, reducing the environmental impact of wastewater treatment plants and recovering resources contained in the wastewater are some of the current issues that need to be resolved to ensure wastewater is managed sustainably. Scientists from the REVERSAAL unit at the Irstea Lyon-Villeurbanne center who specialize in the treatment and recovery of domestic wastewater are working to improve our understanding of various treatment processes and to support public and private stakeholders in designing, running and optimizing wastewater treatment and recovery facilities.

To achieve this, the Lyon team uses the La Feyssine platform, a unique research and test facility. “Located in the Lyon city wastewater treatment plant, this facility has two main advantages. Firstly, it provides direct and continuous access to the city’s wastewater during the various treatment stages (incoming water, water in various stages of treatment, sewage sludge). The project also uses a group of semi-industrial prototype facilities (smaller wastewater treatment plants) that also operate under real conditions,” explains Jean-Marc Perret, research engineer at the Irstea Lyon-Villeurbanne center and platform manager.

Mini-plants to recreate each treatment process

Reed bed filter prototype, currently used as part of the project to recover phosphorus using apatite-filled filters. © G. Maisonneuve/Irstea
Reed bed filter prototype, currently used as part of the project to recover phosphorus using apatite-filled filters.
© G. Maisonneuve/Irstea

By using prototypes that reproduce the most common processes used in the 20,000 wastewater treatment plants currently operating in France (activated sludge 1 and reed bed filters2) and by developing on-demand prototypes to test innovative processes, Irstea researchers are working to remove scientific and technical obstacles and to resolve real-world problems identified by sector stakeholders (communities, operators and builders of wastewater treatment plants, academics, EPNAC independent network, etc.). Their current aims include optimizing process performances to further reduce pollution levels in wastewater (carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen) before it is returned to the environment, reducing energy costs for treatment processes, recovering materials such as phosphorus that can be used as fertilizer, as well as designing new treatment methods that allow treated water to be reused directly (e.g., agricultural irrigation).

Wastewater: a source of matter and energy:

 Prototype using a “high load” biological process to capture carbon from wastewater (CAPTURE project). © R-S. Guthi / Irstea
Prototype using a “high load” biological process to capture carbon from wastewater (CAPTURE project).
© R-S. Guthi / Irstea

Among the flagship projects run at the La Feyssine platform, the CAPTURE project (2018-2022), in partnership with INSA Lyon, SAUR, the Rhône-Mediterranean-Corsica water agency, the city of Lyon and the AXELERA competitive cluster, clearly illustrates current changes to the status of wastewater, from waste to be treated to resources to be recovered. “The aim of this project is to develop new technologies that can be used to capture as much carbon as possible from wastewater as soon as it enters the plant, in order to use it as a raw material to create methane (biogas). Ultimately, it will be possible to produce large quantities of renewable energy to be used directly by the plant, or even to supplement the city’s gas networks,” explains Perret. The stakes are high, with experts estimating that this process could produce 70 to 80% more methane than current wastewater treatment plants while simultaneously reducing their overall energy consumption by up to 50%.

La Feyssine Platform profile

  • Year created: 2011
  • Platform partners: City of Lyon (funding for building), Irstea (funding for equipment)
  • Main equipment:
    • Semi-industrial activated sludge prototypes, convertible to other processes (SBR3, MBBR4)
    • Reed bed filter (RBF) or sand filter prototypes
    • Membrane units for advanced treatment of wastewater
  • Ongoing projects:
    • CAPTURE (wastewater treatment plant of the future: capturing and recovering carbon from wastewater using a high load biological process and advanced primary settling)
    • Forced aeration in RBF (impact of materials, air flows and number of diffusers on oxygen transfers)
    • Simultaneous nitrification/denitrification in activated sludge
    • LAMA TWWR (additional treatment through soil in order to reuse treated wastewater)
    • Phosphorus recovery using apatite filled filters
  • Accessibility: industrial partners as part of the research convention focusing on shared interest areas


Further information

1- Process primarily used in large urban areas. It involves stimulating bacteria that degrade organic matter (containing carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus) and are found naturally in wastewater. These bacteria group together in flocs (activated sludge), which makes it possible to remove them from the water once it has been treated.

2- Process primarily used in small to medium communities. It involves circulating wastewater through a layer of filtering material in which bacteria (filtering biomass) and plants can grow.

3- Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR): process during which sludge is removed from treated wastewater within a single facility.

4- Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor (MBBR): use of submerged, moving supports to encourage bacterial growth (filtering biomass).