€8m+ EU funded project develops innovative wastewater reuse solution for water-stressed regions

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An international team working on a Horizon 2020 EU-funded project has developed a unique bespoke – modular yet integrated – solution for reusing wastewater in remote and/or water-stressed communities.

The patented technologies are being piloted in locations where water is a precious commodity for agriculture or in the conservation of natural freshwater ecosystems.

The EU-funded INNOQUA team is an international consortium with 20 partners from 11 countries located all over the world, including several in South America. The team are testing and ultimately commercialising a set of affordable water-treatment solutions that can be adapted to even the most challenging settings in remote parts of Europe and the rest of the world.

Under the coordination of renowned French research and technology organisation Nobatek, the team are working on the integration of the different technologies into a single modular system, alongside testing and demonstration in real conditions.

NOBATEK’s Jean-Baptiste Dussaussois who leads the project commented:

“We have assembled a vast and experienced team and chosen our test sites carefully to really put the technologies developed by several partners to the test.”

The technologies resemble natural cleaning processes and are based on the purification potential of earthworms and zooplankton, as well as promising developments in microalgae combined with sunlight exposure to remove nutrients from wastewater, while simultaneously providing biomass for energy and reducing CO2 emissions during processing.

The first-line organic wastewater treatment being tested at almost all of INNOQUA’s pilot sites is based on ‘lumbrifiltration’; using earthworms to literally process and purify the waste.

Jean-Baptiste Dussaussois said the method has proven to work at the municipal scale in France – the team believes it can handle heavy duty organically polluted wastewater produced by industry or agribusinesses like canneries and dairies.

Extending horizons

The INNOQUA team is carrying out the demonstration-scale pilots of the modular components and integrated system to expedite commercial deployment after 2020 when the project concludes. This means testing not only the design and its compliance with regulations and environmental norms, but also how the technology performs and is accepted by communities once installed.

So-called ‘controlled environment pilots’ are in place in Ireland and Spain, real-use demo sites and market readiness testing is under way in several EU and non-EU countries (France, Italy, Ireland, Romania, UK, Ecuador, Peru, India and Tanzania). Further preparation for post-project uptake is planned across the consortium.

The international component is critical to ensuring that the technologies can quickly enter the market where they are urgently needed. In addition to the practical implementation, exchanges between the partners within and outside the EU are also a valuable way to share knowhow and boost research and innovation in other regions.

Andrés Alvarado from the Department of Water Resources and Environment Sciences at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador explained:

“INNOQUA allows us to extend the horizons of our research lines in wastewater treatment to non-conventional processes like earthworms, daphnias and solar purification.”

“Collaborating with a diverse consortium of both public and private institutions, including universities, industrial research and innovation players, NGOs, etc., has positively influenced our research vision for the future,” he said, adding that academia needs to work closer together with industry and final users to enhance the impact of these developments.

INNOQUA could be a game-changer for communities without basic sanitation 

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) calls for EU countries to make sure their water sources meet the standards described as “good status” within a certain time frame. However, gaps remain, according to Christoph Sodemann, head of PR at BORDA, a German NGO and INNOQUA project partner:

“That means some 20 million rural inhabitants are still without proper sanitation systems in Europe alone, which is unacceptable.”

To tackle this, INNOQUA’s different modular configurations can be applied in local contexts and markets, which makes them more socially and environmentally acceptable as well as more cost-effective.

“As far as we know, this type of bespoke integrated solution for the treatment of wastewater has not been employed anywhere else in the world,” added Sodemann.

INNOQUA’s system addresses the water treatment needs of decentralised facilities, water-stressed communities, rapidly expanding cities and industries both in developed and developing countries. This takes pressure off ageing wastewater networks, while supporting sustainable population growth by reducing water and energy consumption.

That could be a game-changer and a win-win for the thousands of communities held back by a lack of sanitation and something as basic as clean water.

The€ 8 million-plus project, which saw an EU contribution of almost €7 million, started in June 2016 and is due to conclude at the end of May 2020.