While wastewater treatment is primarily seen as a sanitation technology, a newly finished EU project has worked for three years on cleaning wastewater efficiently and producing bioproducts at the same time.
For many years, wastewater has been viewed as solely a waste product and the technological focus in this area has been to avoid damaging the water, soil and ground water environments, when the wastewater is discharged. But with the current global water scarcity and the expensive operation and maintenance cost of wastewater treatment, the INCOVER project concept has been designed to move wastewater treatment from being primarily a sanitation technology towards a bioproduct recovery industry and a recycled water supplier.
The project has focused on creating solutions from wastewater through nutrient recovery, energy recovery, bioproduction and reclaimed water. The products include bioplastics from naturally occurring, local algae and cyanobacteria, biomethane made from algae, and bio fertilizer made from algae and planted wetlands.
DTI’s part of the project has been to stabilise materials that retrieve phosphorous from wastewater streams, thereby further purifying the wastewater. The captured phosphorous is in a form that can be used by plants, for instance within farming, as a slow-release natural fertilizer. Coming to an end in August 2019, the project has demonstrated positive results.
- During the project we progressed from lab concept to demonstration scale and we are close to getting the concept into hands that can take it into the market, says Frances Helen Blaikie, Senior Specialist at DTI.
The bottles show test samples in the lab – the lighter the colour of the water sample, the more phosphorous have been retrieved from the water.
Bringing circular economy into wastewater management
All the developed technologies have been tested at demonstration sites in Spain at project partners Aqualia, the third largest water management company in Europe, and Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. And while the market is ready to take up some of the technologies developed in INCOVER, EU legislation has stringent rules on using materials that have been in contact with wastewater, making it more difficult to take the products to the market. There is a lot of discussion about changing these rules, and DTI is moving to be a part of the discussion.
- Perhaps the circular economy way of thinking can help change the way we look at wastewater management, as many areas in the world are challenged with water issues and could benefit from these new technologies, says Frances Helen Blaikie and finishes by eyeing another opportunity to use the technologies in her own home environment:
- I’ve noticed that the local creek in Aarhus where I live, is full of green algae - perhaps there is a way to adapt these algae as well and use them for other useful things, here in northern Europe.
- INCOVER is a three-year EU Horizon 2020 project with 18 European partner organizations
- An estimated turnover of 188 million€ for INCOVER users is expected after the initial exploitation strategy of 5 years implementing 27 INCOVER solutions