CETAQUA and Biogroup participate in the 17th World Conference on Anaerobic Digestion

CETAQUA and Biogroup in the AD17

The 17th World Conference on Anaerobic Digestion (AD17) was held at the University of Michigan (USA) from 17-22 June 2022. This international conference, organised by the Anaerobic Digestion Specialist Group of the International Water Association (IWA) with the support of UMICH and USC, was an event to discuss recent advances in anaerobic digestion and related processes. The theme of this edition was: “Biogas and beyond: Expanding applications of anaerobic biotechnologies in a circular economy“. This theme highlights the evolving field of anaerobic biotechnologies, which play an increasingly important role in a circular (bio)economy.

 

The programme included pre-conference workshops, plenary and keynote speakers, a panel discussion “from research to entrepreneurship”, more than 100 oral presentations and around 100 poster presentations. All around a wide range of topics around the role of anaerobic digestion in biotechnology. Part of ECOVAL’s research has to do with optimising this process for the production of Volatile Fatty Acids at the Ourense WWTP, so Antón Taboada-Santos, researcher and Project Manager at CETAQUA, gave a talk on the influence of thermal hydrolysis pre-treatment on the production of VFAs from sewage sludge. Also present at the event was the Biogroup USC, partner of ECOVAL, with the presentation of a poster on the impact of salinity on the production of AGVs, as a result of the CONSERVAL Poctep project.

 

The talk by Antón Taboada, coordinator of the project, was entitled Thermal Hydrolysis Pre-treatment Has No Positive Influence On VFA Production From Sewage Sludge and took place on Monday 20 at 11:00hrs, within the block From Research to Practice: What is the best way to recover energy from sludge?, which runs the same day from 10:30 to 12:15 in the UMMA Auditorium. It was a 10-minute oral presentation with 5 minutes for questions and answers. The results presented come from the research of the team formed by Antón together with Ánder Castro, Sabela Balboa, Vanesa Paramá, Borja Álvarez, Celia Castro and Juan M. Lema.

 

The poster of the USC Biogroup (within the CRETUS research group) was presented on Tuesday 21 June with the identifier P58: Volatile Fatty Acid Production From Fish-canning Industry Effluents: The Impact Of Salinity. It was the result of research by Juan Iglesias-Riobó, Riccardo Bevilacqua, Miguel Mauricio-Iglesias and Marta Carballa. It was exhibited in the Michingan League Ballroom from 12:15 to 14:00 and from 17:15 to 19:00, together with the rest of the posters of the day.

 

AD17 was a good opportunity to raise international awareness of some of ECOVAL’s results and thus improve their communication and dissemination, in line with the project’s GT 6. The event was strongly attended by academics, utilities and consulting engineers.

CETAQUA showcases ECOVAL’s advances in sustainable waste management at CORFU

CETAQUA showcases ECOVAL's advances at CORFU

The International Conference on Sustainable Solid Waste Management (also called CORFU 2022) took place on the Greek island of Corfu from 15-18 June. This year, in its ninth edition, it sought to address the important issue of sustainable solid waste management by promoting safe practices and effective technologies. It aimed to stimulate the interest of scientists and citizens and inform them about the latest developments in the field of municipal solid waste management. The exhibitions were located in the Municipal Theatre in the city center, but could also be viewed online, subject to prior registration and booking.

 

The topics discussed were closely related to the ECOVAL project and its innovations. Therefore, on Thursday 16th at 18:00hrs, Ánder Castro, researcher at CETAQUA, presented the results obtained through experimentation in the pilot WWTP of Ourense. The paper is entitled Thermal hydrolysis pre-treatment has no positive influence on VFA production from sewage sludgeand is the result of the research carried out by Ánder himself together with S. Balboa, V. Paramá, B. Álvarez, C. Castro-Barros, J.M. Lema and A. Taboada-Santos. It is part of session XV of the event, in room 3, dedicated to the waste valorisation.

 

More specifically, the talk dealt with the effect of sewage sludge pre-treatments (in particular the so-called thermal hydrolysis) on the production of volatile fatty acids. This knowledge is very useful to reinforce the overall objective of the conference: to go a step further in solid waste management, for which it helps a lot to learn how to achieve value-added products by applying biorefinery processes to them.

 

The conference was a great opportunity to brought together scientists and professionals from government departments, industry, municipalities, universities, private companies and research centres, providing a forum for the exchange of the latest ideas and techniques in the world of waste management.

ECOVAL awarded a prize in Europe for its campaign “A new bin, are you in?”

Ecoval premiado en europa ewwr

The project was distinguished with the European Special Award during the European Week for Waste Reduction Ceremony, to which more than 12,400 actions were submitted

The communication and social awareness campaign “A new bin, are you in?“, launched by the Fundación Empresa Universidad (FEUGA) within the framework of the Ecoval Sudoe project, has been recognised with the European Special Award at the European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) ceremony held in Brussels.

The award was given in recognition of the campaign’s impact, its creativity and participatory nature, as well as its good use of social media. More than 12,400 actions participated in the “Circular Communities” edition of the awards promoted annually by ACR+, an international network of cities and regions that share the goal of promoting sustainable resource management and accelerating the transition to a circular economy in their territories and beyond. The “A new bin, are you in?” campaign managed to stand out and place among the 60 actions shortlisted by the jury, remain among the 16 finalists and finally achieve the distinction.

 

The campaign focused on raising public awareness of the importance of separating waste correctly, with a focus on organic waste, the brown bin and the incorrect use of the toilet as a waste bin.

The award was presented by Chield Berends, representative of the waste unit of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment. In addition to its focus on organic waste and the new brown bin, the campaign also focused on waste that should not be flushed down the toilet. Proper waste separation and correct toilet use are of vital importance for projects such as Ecoval Sudoe, which focuses on the valorisation of municipal organic waste and sewage sludge into high value-added products such as volatile fatty acids. For the innovation proposed by the project to be really put into operation, proper waste separation has to be achieved first, and this is where the importance of this type of initiative lies.

The European Week for Waste Reduction (EWWR) is the largest waste prevention awareness campaign in Europe. Driven by local and regional public authorities, it brings together all kinds of actors – citizens, schools, businesses, NGOs, associations – who organise awareness-raising activities on waste reduction.

 

Schools in Palencia discover the importance of sorting organic waste

sorting organic waste palencia schools

The ECOVAL awareness campaign that the Fundación Patrimonio Natural de Castilla y León is carrying out in Palencia was extended to the young people of the city. It has been through a series of meetings in different schools and institutes that began on 16 May and ended on 30 May at the Divino Maestro Educational Foundation.

On their journey, these educational days passed through the Colegio Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the CEIP Ciudad de Buenos Aires, the CEIP Jorge Manrique, the Colegio Tello Téllez de Meneses or the Centro de Formación Profesional Camino de la Miranda. In a total of 11 sessions distributed among these schools, plus Divino Maestro, the campaign reached a total number of 248 students. Ages ranged from 8 to 16 years old.

 

The circular economy as a regenerative economy.

The educational sessions were structured through an interactive and participatory procedure designed for schools and institutes in which the work carried out by Fundación Patrimonio Natural de Castilla y León in the transmission of the circular economy as a regenerative economy is presented. It consists of a game of questions and answers that will allow students to understand the value and the cycle of organic matter in a circular economy model, understanding the different useful tools, such as the prevention of food waste or the correct separation of waste. A team of environmental educators were in charge of carrying it out.

This campaign has also included posters on buses and bus shelters, the organisation of the Palencia Businessmen’s Conference and the publication of a Guide to Good Practices that provides information on the problem of urban organic waste and how it can be tackled at home. All of this is focused on disseminating and raising awareness across the board of the possibilities that the ECOVAL project offers for the management of sludge and urban organic waste.

Ecoval Sudoe, a sustainable approach to urban sludge and urban biowaste management

On 8 June, the event “Ecoval Sudoe, a sustainable approach to urban sludge and urban biowaste management“, organised by Porto Ambiente, will bring together the main actors involved in ECOVAL to define a clear and detailed picture of the project. The venue will be the headquarters of Porto Ambiente in Porto.

The Portuguese organising company is responsible for the urban waste management and cleaning services of the Porto city council. In recent years, it has made an effort to improve organic waste collection through innovation by participating in international R&D&I projects. In ECOVAL, they are dedicated to the identification of legal barriers to the recovery of sludge and urban bio-waste and to the proposal of legislative changes for the implementation of the ECOVAL model and its arrival on the market.

 

The programme of the event, which runs from 09:30h to 17:00h, will start with a welcome by Filipe Araújo, the Vice-Mayor of Porto, and an introduction to the project by the coordinator Antón Taboada, from Cetaqua. This will be followed throughout the morning by a series of presentations from each of the partners with a coffee break. After lunch, the invited consortium will visit the LIPOR Compost Plant and the Águas do Porto Wastewater Treatment Plant, learning about their operation first hand. You can consult the full programme here.

Attendance is limited to consortium members and those invited by Porto Ambiente. It will be the first time that the entire ECOVAL project consortium will meet in person, and they will take the opportunity to hold an organisational meeting the day after the event.

The campaign “A new bin, are you in?” travels to the CRA of Vilaboa

La campaña “Otro contendor, ¡qué marrón!” viaja de la mano de FEUGA hasta el CRA de Vilaboa

After the good reception of the activity in Colexio Mendiño, the ECOVAL campaign “A new bin, are you in?” is approached by the hand of FEUGA to the CRA of Vilaboa, a multilingual infant school, with children between 3 and 6 years old.

Following the values of the European Week for Waste Reduction, in which the campaign was born, and as part of the celebration of the World Recycling Day (17th May), the activity focused on transmitting to the youngest the importance of separating waste in the correct way in order to achieve a more sustainable world.

The implementation of the brown bin is not yet widespread throughout Europe, but in Vilaboa they have been separating organic waste for many years. The Green Point managed by the council is becoming a benchmark at provincial level, being able to manage up to 750 tonnes of organic waste per year, mainly from pruning and gardening.

Ecoval was in charge of reinforcing this positive attitude towards recycling in the classroom, explaining the processes involved in this type of circular economy and how each individual can collaborate at home to achieve a much greater collective benefit.

 

The activities to be carried out with the students were eminently practical, favouring more effective learning. A short introductory talk accompanied by animated videos provided the appropriate context to move on to action. As a practical exercise, each child received a piece of waste to be analysed and deposited in the corresponding container. Once all the waste had been sorted, the children were asked to check whether they had really sorted it correctly, correcting it together and discussing what they had learnt.

Taking advantage of the occasion, the importance of avoiding food waste and not using the toilet as a waste bin was also introduced, as many environmental problems are caused by flushing items such as wet wipes, cotton buds or plasters down the toilet, among others.

Activities such as this, which provide information about recycling and waste reduction in the classroom, are a key element in creating conscientious adults and bringing us closer to the sustainable world we all want to achieve.

 

ECOVAL Sudoe, the circular solution to replace fossil fuels

Industries are increasingly aware of the importance of implementing policies that respond to the context of the environmental crisis we are facing, with “reduce, reuse and recycle” being the new guidelines to be established in their ways of operating. Many decide to get involved and collaborate in research projects capable of developing innovative technologies aimed at taking advantage of waste or resources that have already been used to generate new goods, providing alternatives that are friendlier to the planet.

The urgency to apply circular alternatives in production processes to minimise the damage they can generate is one of the reasons why companies such as Repsol, Fertiberia or Grupo Valora have joined to support R&D&I projects such as those currently being developed in the Ourense biofactory, managed by Viaqua, in order to build a future where fossil fuels are no longer essential.

ECOVAL Sudoe, led by Cetaqua, the Water Technology Centre, and co-financed by the Interreg Sudoe Programme through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is a project that aims to offer solutions of real application for the chemical, petrochemical and fertiliser industries. “Wastewater treatment processes generate large quantities of sludge. These have traditionally been seen as a waste to be eliminated, however, in the ECOVAL project we demonstrate that they can be a product from which high added value raw materials are generated that have potential for application in the chemical and petrochemical industry to produce compounds such as lubricants, bioplastics, paints or adhesives,” explains Antón Taboada, Project Manager of the project in Cetaqua Galicia.

“Cetaqua is doing magnificent work in the optimisation of the integral water cycle and the conversion of wastewater treatment plants into biofactories,” says Enrique Espí, senior research scientist at Repsol’s Technology Centre, a partner in the European project.

Repsol, a partner in the project, says it is “especially interested” in the use of sewage sludge as an “alternative and renewable raw material” to be applied in the manufacture of its plastic materials, says Espí, who considers the task of transforming sludge that was considered a “waste to be eliminated” into a “new resource” to be particularly noteworthy, an action aligned with one of its major challenges: “to obtain zero net emissions by 2050”, he adds.

Sectors specialising in the production of fertilisers are also one of the potential recipients of the by-products generated in ECOVAL. This is the case of Fertiberia, which aims to develop new products that integrate nutrients recovered from bio-waste. In this way, the head of R&D&I projects at Fertiberia, María Cinta Cazador, sees the ECOVAL project as a possibility of “advancing along this path”, constituting an example where “the viability and commercialisation of the proposed solutions have taken into account the participation of this final part of the value chain” and where “all the parties are fed back and benefit”, she points out.

On the other hand, Valentín Jiménez, Director and Group Managing Director of the Valora Group, a company specialising in services and products for the agricultural sector and another of those interested in the use of this bio-waste to apply to their business model, explains that investing in “projects that make this a tangible reality is one of the most effective ways to actively fight for the conservation of our environment, not only on an environmental level, but also on a social and economic level”.

“We have always understood WWTP sludge as a resource that, under exhaustive control and necessary transformation, can be converted into high added value products with a huge potential market; even more so in our country, which is increasingly affected by the loss of organic matter from our soils”. Valentín Jiménez explains.

Regarding the path that is currently being taken to establish more circular models, Enrique Espí, from Repsol, refers to a current context in which the energy sector is facing “new challenges, but also new opportunities where public-private collaboration is going to be fundamental”.

Similarly, María Cinta Cazador, from Fertiberia, highlights the importance of forging alliances that allow progress to be made, considering that “there are great technical difficulties in reaching a management model that achieves the optimum environmental and is economically viable”. For this reason, she explains, “collaboration between them, research bodies and end users, in this case, the fertiliser industry, is fundamental”, she concludes.

Ecoval visits Colexio Mendiño

Ecoval llevará su campaña al Colexio Mendiño

On Wednesday 18 May, the European project ECOVAL SUDOE presented its model of management and recovery of sewage sludge and organic waste to the students of the Mendiño school in Vigo.

Continuing with the values of the European Week for Waste Reduction, Ecoval Sudoe takes its campaign “Another bin, than brown” to Colexio Mendiño, a vocational training centre in the city of Oviedo.

The centre trains young people aged between 15 and 25 in administrative management, commerce and auxiliary nursing care. Although they are three very different branches, the Mendiño School strives to instil transversal values such as the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and separating waste correctly for recycling.

The Fundación Empresa-Universidad Gallega (FEUGA), communication leader in the project, organised a day in which the students reinforced their knowledge about how to separate waste, with special interest in the new brown bin, the one for organic waste. This container will be a reality in all European cities in 2024 and is already starting to be implemented in the city of Vigo. There are currently only 70 units of these containers, but the procedure has already begun to install 1950 more units.

The event took place on 18 May, with morning and afternoon sessions, taking advantage of the proximity of International Recycling Day, which is celebrated every year on 17 May. The students were able to learn how much organic and inorganic waste we generate annually, the current problem they pose and the solutions proposed by the project, based on their separation and recovery as Volatile Fatty Acids (VFA), a product in great demand by various industries and which is currently obtained mainly from oil.

The talk included theoretical explanations of the project framework, a small question and answer competition and a space to discuss the topics of most interest to the students, as well as any doubts they might have. In this way, the knowledge generated by the project was brought closer to the citizens in a pleasant and easy to understand way, placing science at the service of the population and favouring awareness and sensitisation on sustainability issues.

This activity follows the line of the presence of the project in schools, which began with the implementation of containers in schools in Ourense and will continue with another similar visit next week to the school of Vilaboa.

Biogroup investigates how to optimise VFA production at ECOVAL

The transformation of waste into value-added products is an ambitious goal in the transition to a circular economy. This is what ECOVAL and other research projects are working towards. Among the possible angles from which to approach this mission, the conversion of organic waste by anaerobic fermentation (the so-called carboxylate platform) is one of the most promising emerging biorefineries that can valorise the organic carbon present in biowaste and sewage sludge into volatile fatty acids (VFA). These can be further processed into chemicals, biopolymers and biofuels, which are needed by a multitude of industries.

This technology, like all emerging technologies, also presents significant barriers. One of them, which prevents the generalisation of the carboxylate platform, is its poor selectivity, which leads to a mixture of acetic, propionic, butyric and valeric acid mainly, and the impossibility of isolating them. The USC Biogroup is tackling the challenge of selective sludge valorisation at ECOVAL with a multidisciplinary approach that integrates experimentation and mathematical modelling. Based on their previously developed tools to predict the fermentation products of sugars and proteins to sludge, they perform sludge fermentation experiments in which they measure how their main components change: the solubilisation of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, hydrolysis to produce sugars, amino acids and fatty acids, and finally fermentation to VFA.

The final objective is to provide operational guidelines to predict under which conditions (at which pH, with which residence time in the reactor, with which possible co-substrates) the production of each of the VFAs can be maximised, in line with ECOVAL’s WG 2, which focuses on the optimisation of this process.

Sludge acidification reactors of the Bipogroup laboratory

 

The Biogroup also wants to answer other questions through the activities developed in the ECOVAL project. These are: how can we select the best strategy for converting waste into resources from an environmental point of view among the technically possible ones; do we always have the guarantee that the environmental cost will be lower compared to the current management when we take into account the complete life cycle of the process?

 

In recent decades, it has become clear how unsustainable the traditional economic model based on a linear approach is.

Therefore, in contrast, there is a widespread conviction that this model should be replaced by a more sustainable model, in which the value of products, materials and resources is retained in the economy for as long as possible, and the value of products, materials and resources is retained in the economy for as long as possible, and waste generation is minimised: the so-called circular economy. And in this context, methodologies based on life cycle thinking are presented as the appropriate assessment tools to guide the development of processes in its transition.

The transition towards a circular economy model requires a new approach to waste management, which involves changing the way we see waste from a problem to a resource with the potential to develop added value. Considering that organic waste represents around 40% of the total municipal waste produced, the importance of its proper management and recovery is evident.

The possibilities are varied and depend on multiple factors, so ECOVAL, thanks to the Biogroup, will establish reference values, i.e. the quantification of the environmental impacts of current organic waste and sewage sludge management strategies in the SUDOE area, taking into account the regulatory requirements of imminent application. These values will determine the baseline for comparison of the environmental performance of the innovative strategies resulting from the project for obtaining high added value bioproducts from the treatment of the same waste. In this way, we will have concrete metrics with which to evaluate the impact of the new management system and the products derived from it in environmental terms, one of the tasks of WG 6: “Replicability and transfer of the business model and its environmental and economic assessment”.

Turning mud into gold

This is what the NEREUS network is working on within the ECOVAL project. Ecoval Sudoe is developing a method for the extraction of high added value molecules, Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs), from processed sludge. The aim of the NEREUS project is to test a process for the extraction and purification of VFAs from sludge sent to them by the coordinator CETAQUA. This process must be economically viable and meet market specifications. In addition to this double constraint, there are legal barriers related to the recovery of bio-waste and sludge from wastewater treatment plants. This is why the Ecoval Sudoe project tries to go beyond what is established.

 

Extracting, sanitising, filtering and concentrating
NEREUS has developed a dynamic nanofiltration pilot plant with three major advantages: it extracts the molecules of interest from organic sludge, ensures their sanitisation and filters at low energy costs. After this first filtration stage, concentration processes are applied to achieve the desired objective.

Waste organic matter is further valorised at INSA Toulouse for energy production and through the land application study at the Fundación Patrimonio Natural de Castilla y León.