LIFE HyMemb - Tailoring hybrid membrane processes for sustainable drinking water production

LIFE12 ENV/PT/001154

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Contact details:

Contact person: Maria João ROSA
Tel: 00351218443625
Fax: 00351218443032
Email: mjrosa@lnec.pt

Project description:


Anthropogenic pressures and climate change are responsible for severe variations in water availability and quality, and for the degradation of water sources by emerging contaminants that are of environmental-health concern because of their toxicity, mutagenicity and/or endocrine-disrupting behaviour. These include personal care products and pharmaceuticals; pesticides from agriculture; and cyanotoxins produced by toxic cyanobacterial (blue-green algal) blooms. Such emerging pollutants are dissolved organics, of intermediate-to-low molar mass, and commonly present in very low concentrations. As such, conventional wastewater treatment plants and processes do little to remove them.


The objective of the LIFE Hymemb project was to demonstrate the feasibility and sustainability of advanced membrane processes for the treatment of drinking water, to provide a safer and more resilient barrier against emerging contaminants, with lower environmental impacts.

Specific objectives included developing an innovative hybrid process, using powdered activated carbon (PAC) and a low-pressure ceramic membrane (microfiltration - MF); conducting a two-year field test of a PAC/MF prototype; drafting guidelines on PAC/MF application based on several drinking water scenarios for safer water with a reduced carbon footprint (e.g. decreased chemical consumption and reduced sludge production); and carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of the process. LIFE Hymemb aimed to identify potential opportunities for using PAC/MF technology in drinking water treatment. The project was implemented under real-life conditions at Alcantarilha wastewater treatment plant (WTP) in Portugal.


The LIFE HyMemb project demonstrated an innovative, cost-efficient and highly transferrable powdered activated carbon (PAC)/microfiltration (MF) technology for treating drinking water. The prototype demonstration presented good operational results (high fluxes, high water recovery and long filtration time) and high water quality (in microbiological and physical-chemical parameters, including removed nearly all pharmaceuticals and pesticides), thus showing the huge potential of this technology for controlling emerging contaminants in drinking water.

To begin, the project team selected a representative list of 39 target contaminants (including 22 pharmaceuticals, 10 pesticides, 4 cyanotoxins, aerobic endospores, cyanotoxins, bacteriophages and natural organic matter). Then, the project selected activated carbons and prototype conditions through laboratory studies: 9 PACs were pre-selected for testing (4 for PAC/CFS (Coagulation/Flocculation/Sedimentation) and 5 for PAC/MF), while one PAC was selected for each application at pilot scale. This led to the design and assembly of the PAC/MF prototype which was tested for over 1.5 years at the Alcantarilha WTP, using water from four points of the WTP sequence (raw water, ozonated water, decanted water, and filtered water). The advanced PAC/MF process was benchmarked against the conventional treatment process, showing higher effectiveness and reliability for emerging contaminants (20% higher removal), turbidity, endospores (used as surrogates of chemically-resistant biological forms) and fine PAC particles, using similar doses of activated carbon.

In particular, the technology managed to remove up to 98% of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and microcystins (all spiked in the feed water, 1-20 ug/L), full removal of endospores and long-term stability in perme, full removal of protozoan cysts and long-term stability in permeate concentration. For low turbidity waters (≤ 5 NTU) of low and hydrophilic organic content (≤ 3 mgC/L Total Organic Carbon), Capital (CAPEX) and operating (OPEX) expenditures of 0.08 to 0.12 €/m3 were estimated for producing 100 000 m3/day of water by PAC/MF. These treatment costs were similar to the current state of the art technologies (conventional treatment with ozone pre-oxidation). PAC/MF energy consumption proved similar to the status-quo and significantly lower than when using nanofiltration.

Environmental benefits derive from improved water treatment plants contributing to consumer protection (drinking water quality), and to climate change adaptation (where poor raw water quality or fast and severe variations might be a reality). The new technology enables water treatment with lower environmental impacts (reduced carbon footprint, sludge production, lower reagent and energy consumption), and provides a sustainable solution for emerging contaminant control.

The project is associated with a range of socio-economic benefits. For instance, business opportunities may arise (e.g. the development of ceramic membranes), and the technology enables decentralised water treatment solutions with smaller distribution networks and cost savings. The project also raised public awareness about water consumption, water saving, water quality and treatment technologies.

In terms of policy and legislation, the project filled gaps in knowledge on the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and helped implement the Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC) and the Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC) in the Algarve region of Portugal. Project results have also contributed to the implementation of the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2013/39/EU) for the update of the “List of priority substances” and the “Watch List” monitoring mechanisms for emerging water pollutants. The project team produced Technical Guidelines for the use of PAC/MF to support water professionals, water and environment authorities, public administration and other stakeholders during technology transfer. The guidelines are particularly helpful in Portugal, where treatment membrane technology is quite insipient.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Water - Waste water treatment
Water - Water quality improvement


water treatment‚  water quality improvement‚  drinking water‚  pollutant elimination

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 98/83 - Quality of water intended for human consumption (03.11.1998)
  • Directive 2000/60 - Framework for Community action in the field of water policy (23.10.2000)
  • Directive 2008/105 - Environmental quality standards in the field of water policy (16.12.2008)

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil, I.P.
Type of organisation Research institution
Description The Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil – LNEC (National Laboratory for Civil Engineering) is a state-owned research and development institution founded in 1946. Its main goals are to carry out innovative research and development and to contribute to achieving best practices in civil engineering, as well as advising the Portuguese government in technical and scientific matters of civil engineering. Its hydraulic and environment department (DHA) develops research applied to the field of water and environment.
Partners Águas do Algarve S.A., Portugal


Project reference LIFE12 ENV/PT/001154
Duration 01-JAN-2014 to 31-DEC -2016
Total budget 631,046.00 €
EU contribution 282,678.00 €
Project location Lisboa e vale do Tejo(Portugal) Algarve(Portugal)


Read more:

Brochure Leaflet of the project
Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Communication Plan After-LIFE Communication Plan
Publication: Layman report Layman report (Portuguese version)
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Final technical report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version