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Reporting period: 2021-06-01 to 2022-11-30

Everyday cities face challenges of the degradation of fundamental vital resources. Population growth, resource depletion, and climate change aggravate pressures on water resources. In response, cities are moving towards a circular water model through integration of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) as an important component of urban water management.
NbS are technologies & processes inspired by nature that address societal challenges providing environmental, social & economic benefits without consumption of new resources & helping build resilience. In this context, NbS are key for water treatment & reuse due to their efficient pollutant removal, low energy consumption, easy maintenance. In addition, they act synergically with environmental, social, & economic sustainability. However, more research & innovative approaches are needed to improve & widen application of NbS: NICE addresses these gaps. The project is generating knowledge for design &implementation of NbS to close urban water loops. The solutions will capture water, treat it &repurpose it for different uses, mitigating pollution and runoff.
Building on an extensive analysis of existing NbS, NICE develops & tests new approaches in labs and 'Urban Real Labs' (URLs), addressing all urban water cycle; wastewater, greywater, river basins, stormwater & combined sewer overflow. NbS include green walls, green roofs, rain gardens & hybrid subsurface wetlands, enhanced with tailored strategies (bioaugmentation and innovative reactive media). Furthermore, to contribute to upscale & widespread of NbS, NICE includes an open-source modelling tool that can be used to test, for a given site, performance of different NbS and select the most suitable one to create sustainable urban water loops.
The URL sites are: Vigo, Talavera, Algeciras, Benalmadena, Madrid (Spain), Lyon (France), Turin (Italy), Aarhus (Denmark), Gdansk (Poland), Cairo (Egypt) and Pereira (Colombia). Furthermore, 4 fellow sites will also implement NICE NbS for further testing, selected among NICE fellow cities that are learning from the main URLs; Ostrava (Czech Republic), Vienna (Austria), Copenhagen (Denmark), Tirana (Albania), Belgrade (Serbia), Quito (Ecuador) and Kunming (China).
To achieve sustainable circular urban water loops, the project integrates research, private sector, citizens, policies & economy, providing knowledge base for the integration of NbS in the urban context by:
• Enabling scaling-up of NbS across EU developing standards, guidelines & methodologies, based on results from R&D on innovative NbS at lab and URL scales and review of existing NbS.
• Creating new business & investment models for cost-effective solutions benefitting the environment, economy and society.
• Identifying obstacles, barriers & opportunities in regulatory frameworks to support integration of NbS.
• Raising awareness , by involving local stakeholders in co-creation of the URLs.
Coordinated by CETIM with 13 other partners at the forefront of NbS research & implementation, NICE is helping transform the EU urban water landscape to a more sustainable source.
NICE has had 3 clear foci during the first 18 months. 1st: updating, establishing & improving knowledge of NbS, to ensure robust set-up of the demonstrations; 2nd: identifying & working on needs and challenges to be addressed afor NbS widespread, including a holistic assessment, with clear definition of NICE social, economic and environmental strategyfor short and long-term effects; and, 3rd: ensuring that NICE will have an impact inside and outside the immediate partners of the project and that the project will make a relevant contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The 1st focus involved activities and results improving the know-how of NbS for water treatment to be integrated into NICE pilots and future implementations, addressing:
• Revision & elaboration of a comprehensive review of innovative NBS from EU and other relevant countries where NbS for water treatment and recycling is among the highest.
• Test & selection of innovative sustainable reactive media for contaminants adsorption and to increase water purification.
• Test of microorganisms and consortia to remove contaminants.
• Tested green walls and green roofs to provide more efficient designs for future applications.
• Rain gardens and constructed wetlands have been commissioned and tested to define best design & operation guidelines.
Among the most relevant results in this first period are: 50 NbS included in NICE portfolio; 2 sustainable materials with good performance in adsorbing emerging contaminants from wastewater; green walls with good performance under different underloads and detergents concentration conditions.
The 2nd focus addresses definition, requirement analysis and information gathering to precisely define he current challenges & further project strategies. To this end, during this period:
• Design requirements for analytical functionality of an open NbS software were defined.
• LCC, LCA & LCBRA were done to ensure environmental, health, & cost-effectiveness results of the first activities to further refine and preserve NICE purposes.
• A plan for exploitation was developed and workshops conducted to explain fundamentals of business plans & strategies to NICE partners.
• Information about needs & challenges of future NICE pilot cities was obtained in training sessions & local participative activities.
The main results achieved so far are: determination of NICE open access NbS software architecture; green walls with higher cost-efficiency; local context of main NICE NbS pilots defined; NICE main exploitable results identified.
Regarding the 3rd focus, in the first 18 months, for outreach of NICE outputs:
• Complementary materials were developed & shared.
• Participative and communication events and activities were done: NICE Cities Panel, webinar series, participation in NbS EC Clustering Task Forces. In addition, collaboration, selection of fellow cities to NICE pilots’ implementation is undergoing.
The main results achieved so far are NICE visual identity completed, 5,200 views of the website during, 6 presentations of NICE project, 5 formal interactions with EU projects and initiatives.
NICE brings together easy-to-use replicable solutions to support development & implementation of NbS in cities, delivering a wide set of social, environmental & economic benefits related to water circularity. Referred to this, several impacts are expected in each of the project actions.
Based on this, an extensive body of technical, social, economic, and environmental knowledge in NbS has been defined and developed in the first 18 months of the project, among which can be mentioned:
- Improvement of the know-how of NbS to increase the performance for water treatment: developing an innovative NbS portfolio; tests of bioaugmentation and adsorption technics, tests of different hydraulic and discharge conditions;
- Improvement of the know-how about the design and upscale of different NbS, green walls, rain gardens, constructed wetlands, etc.
- Increasing the NbS economic, social and environmental attractiveness: developing LCA, LCC, LCRA NbS analyses; disseminating NICE outputs; researching the social needs and challenges about water management and sustainability; development of a plan for the exploitation of NICE NbS results and economic strategy.
NICE Consortium