The National Institute of Applied Sciences of Toulouse (INSA Toulouse) hosted the consortium meeting of the Ecoval Sudoe project in the same French city on Wednesday and Thursday (23 and 24 November, respectively) in order to share and present the progress achieved so far, as well as the next steps to be taken.
The kick-off was at nine o’clock in the morning, where CETAQUA made an introduction and presentation of the project, as well as its contribution to it from a biotechnological perspective to valorise organic waste. Subsequently, the rest of the actors (FEUGA, INSA TBI, NEREUS, USC BioGroup, ADTA, FPNCyL and Porto Ambiente) presented their different contributions to Ecoval Sudoe until midday, when there was a break to resume the activity in the afternoon.
On Thursday, the consortium visited the Ginestous Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) in Toulouse to observe first-hand how the city’s sewage sludge is currently treated. It also analysed its potential for transformation into a biofactory, as pursued by the Ecoval Sudoe model to promote a more sustainable and circular economy.
This consortium meeting is the fifth one held by the project, after the last one organised last June in the city of Porto, hosted by Porto Ambiente. In this type of events, synergies are generated between the different agents and are a key element for the proper functioning of all types of projects, even more so in the case of Ecoval Sudoe due to the multiplicity of actors, interests and challenges faced with the aim of promoting a circular and sustainable business model in a context of green transition.
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.
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.
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”.
The main object of discussion was the work planning for joint tasks of the ECOVAL project and the activities related to the comprehensive urban organic waste management model and measurement of its social and legal impact; and the replicability and transfer of the business model and its environmental and economic assessment.
The city model of Toulouse, where the meeting was held, was also a case of study for the attendees because of its implementation of the bio-waste collection since 2019. Chloé Maisanno, head of the “Observatoire Régional des Déchets et de l’Economie Circulaire en Occitanie – ORDECO” (Regional Observatory of Waste and Circular Economy in Occitania) showed her interest in the development of the project and participated at the last session on Friday morning.
The participants concluded that the meetings were a success in achieving their objectives and took the opportunity to exchange results and approaches taken in each of the laboratories. A follow-up reunion will take place in October.
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