Bespoke sanitation solutions for water-stressed regions
With EU backing, an international team 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.
© #231258826 | Author: stockphoto-graf, 2018 fotolia.com
Water is the lifeblood of healthy, prospering communities and yet still today some 2.5 billion people globally lack basic sanitation facilities, and thousands die every day from diarrhoea caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene. More needs to be done to tackle this, according to UNESCO, which dedicated one its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6).
EU-funded projects like INNOQUA have taken up this challenge. The team, led by NOBATEK/INEF4 in France with an international consortium spanning 11 countries including several in South America, is 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.
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, says NOBATEKs Jean-Baptiste Dussaussois who leads the project.
These 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.
But the first-line organic wastewater treatment were testing at almost all of INNOQUAs pilot sites is based on lumbrifiltration; using earthworms to literally process and purify the waste, explains Dussaussois. This method has proven to work at the municipal scale in France, and we believe it can handle heavy duty organically polluted wastewater produced by industry or agribusinesses like canneries and dairies.
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), and 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. Aside from 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.
INNOQUA allows us to extend the horizons of our research lines in wastewater treatment to non-conventional processes like earthworms, daphnias and solar purification, explains Andrés Alvarado from the Department of Water Resources and Environment Sciences at the University of Cuenca, Ecuador.
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 says, adding that academia needs to work closer together with industry and final users to enhance the impact of these developments.
More to be done for the greater good
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. But gaps remain, according to Christoph Sodemann, head of PR at BORDA, a German NGO and INNOQUA project partner, whose mission is to provide safely managed sanitation for all. That means some 20 million rural inhabitants are still without proper sanitation systems in Europe alone, which is unacceptable.
To tackle this, INNOQUAs different modular configurations can be worked into 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, adds Sodemann.
INNOQUAs 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 (and precious) as clean water.