Exeter joins new European initiative to turn wastewater into valuable resource

Wastewater is not only a reusable resource but also a carrier for energy and components that can be extracted, treated, stored and reused.

Experts from the University of Exeter will play a crucial role in a new pan-European initiative to develop new techniques to turn wastewater into a valuable resource.

A team from both Exeter’s engineering department and the Business School will collaborate with researchers from across Europe for the new ULTIMATE (indUstry water-utiLiTy symbIosis for a sMarter wATer society; ) project.

The initiative, funded the European Commission, and which starts this month (June 2020), aims to create economic value and increase sustainability by utilising resources within the water cycle.

Wastewater is not only a reusable resource but also a carrier for energy and components that can be extracted, treated, stored and reused.

In the ambitious concept called “Water Smart Industrial Symbiosis (WSIS)” the consortium promotes recycling in various industrial settings. As a pilot the consortium has selected nine business cases from the international agro-food, petrochemical and biotech sector.

Dr Albert Chen, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and part of the research team said: “ULTIMATE will explore opportunities to bridge the gap between technology optimisation and business development that will co-produce shared visions for a more circular, profitable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly industry, with water at its centre. The outcome will significantly enhance the recovery and use of resources, enabling more sustainable socio-economic development with better strengthened resilience to climate change.

Professor Nav Mustafee, Associate Professor of Analytics and the Deputy Director of the Centre for Simulation, Analytics and Modelling (CSAM), said: “Our project will employ hybrid computer modelling and simulation techniques, such as, the combined application of System Dynamics with Agent-based and Discrete-event simulation, to model recycling strategies that take into consideration the different systemic inter-linkages existing in water-smart systems”.

Prof Slobodan Djordjevic and Dr Mehdi Khoury at the Centre for Water Systems (CWS) will also contribute their expertise in water research and data sciences to ULTIMATE. The University of Exeter’s role in the new partnership will be assembling, developing and demonstrating a set of transversal tools to support WSIS decision making. We will identify symbiotic opportunities, improve the design and operation of symbiotic schemes and assess their medium- and long-term performance within a dynamic socio-economic and business environment.

Several other schemes will be conducted as part of the project.

The Aretusa Consortium in Italy, treating residues waters from two communities in Tuscany, has an ambitious vision to increase its annual water process capacity from 3 to 4 million cubic metres, while famous Glenmorangie whiskey distillery in Scotland is another partner that takes part in the pilot. The aim is to extract up to 800mg/L ammonia for usage as fertiliser and to recover heat for use in the distillery processes.

Another demo case is the horticulture development area Nieuw Prinsenland in the Netherlands. At this site excess heat during summer is stored and reused to cover the greenhouse heat demand during the wintertime. Furthermore, the project aims to reuse the water and nutrients after treatment of the wastewater to remove pesticides and plant pathogens. The goal is to achieve zero wastewater discharge.

All these approaches promise benefits such as lower costs as well as new types of revenues, by exploiting waste management: not only because it is a legal obligation but because it offers business opportunities. The European Commission has long recognised this potential and adopted the new Circular Economy Action Plan, one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s new agenda for sustainable growth.

“ULTIMATE is a 4-year Horizon2020 project under the EU Water in the Context of the Circular Economy programme”, says senior researcher Gerard van den Berg, coordinator of the ULTIMATE project from KWR Water Research Institute in the Netherlands. Van den Berg explains that “We have mobilised a strong partnership of water utilities, industry, technology providers, business developers and applied research institutes. We aim to create economic and sustainability value by valorising resources from the water cycle.”

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