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Developing the next generation air treatment based on replacing non-renewable resources by microbiology

Final Report Summary - NEXT AIR BIOTREAT (Developing the next generation air treatment based on replacing non-renewable resources by microbiology)

The main objective of NEXT AIR BIOTREAT is to advance a new biotechnology for the removal of volatile organic compounds from industrial air emissions. The foundations of the project are based on the experience of Universitat de València (UVEG, Spain) and PAS Solutions (PAS, The Netherlands) in the removal of volatile organic compounds by biotrickling filtration. Further research and development is required for real advance of the technology in Europe and to make it suitable and competitive for a wide range of applications with a variety of VOC emissions. The participation of Exel Composites (EXEL, Belgium) in the project is a key element that guarantees input from a problem owner perspective and provides the required scalability for research on the removal of styrene. This project offers a total of 15 researchers and technicians the opportunity to move sector and country in order to absorb, transfer and apply knowledge and skills in a highly dynamic environment.

The key objectives of the NEXT AIR BIOTREAT team are:
- To obtain ground rules and dynamics of the processes and mechanisms that occurs in the biotrickling reactors.
- To design and to operate biological processes in real scale installations and in combination of process engineering and biological processes.
- To determine possibilities and limitations of implementing treatment technologies at industrial facilities as a technically excellent and cost-effective solution.

Scientific highlights and research achievements:
During the 48 months of the project, academia and industry groups have grown together as a joint team. The three partners exchanged successfully theoretical and practical competences, researchers transferred their knowledge and built up new competences at their respective host institutions and/or at the new positions they have acquired thanks to their involvement in the project. A total of 13 persons were seconded and spent a total of 54 months at their host institutions. Two experienced researchers have been recruited, each one for 2 years, with specific profiles, allowing them to advance in their field of expertise, and to increase their knowledge with new capabilities that allowed them to obtain new scientific and technical positions once their work at the project ended.

In the four years of the project, the consortium has performed and achieved the following work and results of the three overlapping research and partnership programme areas:

WP2. Development of hybrid biotechnology for removal of hydrophilic VOCs. A new technology has been developed. UVEG and PAS have patented the results in a 50/50% joint foreground scheme. The technology was successfully tested at laboratory scale at UVEG. Results were transferred to industrial scale and PAS set-up a prototype unit. The industrial prototype has been under operation at an end-user facility during more than one year. Based on the positive results of the proof-of-concept, the consortium anticipated the engineering implementation and dissemination of the technology towards potential end clients. In-deep research with the aim to work in the process optimization will continue with a new funded project from European Commission in which 2 early-stage researchers are working for next years (

WP3. Development of a peak shaving biotechnology for the removal of styrene. A pilot unit of a biotrickling filter for styrene removal was set-up and tested in EXEL, with the collaboration of UVEG and PAS. Results demonstrated that biotrickling filtration is a suitable technology for the removal of dilute air emissions of styrene. A comparative study versus other technologies (biofiltration, regenerative thermal oxidizer, and activated carbon) showed that is the most competitive technology based on economic and environmental issues. A new concept based on a serial system composed of photocatalytic + biotrickling filter was also tested, which confirmed that stand-alone biotrickling filtration is more suitable. At the moment EXEL and PAS are carrying on the engineering implementation of the industrial VOCUSTM biotrickling filter system. The ventilation system of the factory has been updated and installed in 2015, and the VOCUSTM unit is expected to be installed in 2016. The site of EXEL in Belgium will be used as a world-wide reference for removal of industrial air emissions containing styrene by biotrickling filtration. This project allows us to create long-lasting collaborations between the two industrial partners, by the potential future expansion of the PAS technology to the other facilities that EXEL Group has in Europe, Asia and China. The academic partner UV and EXEL Group will continue collaborating in the near future; UV will provide assistance to EXEL to control indoor air quality in several facilities in Europe.

WP4. Development of a responsive control tool. Empirical data of the performance of biotrickling filters at laboratory and industrial scale to improve its performance have been generated. This data has been used for the development of a mathematical model and control software. A networking data platform (REMUS) for data processing and monitoring of biotechnology systems at industrial scale has been developed and implemented at PAS. This platform has greatly increased the research capabilities of UVEG and PAS. This tool had an important impact in the service department of PAS, who is using REMUS to control the bioreactors of some clients which whom PAS has service contracts, enhancing and improving its monitoring and maintenance.

The NEXT AIR BIOTREAT project had an impact on the career of the participants, achieving some promotions and career advancement. The researchers have published 10 full papers and 2 abstracts (peer-reviewed) and have presented 22 results (oral presentations + posters) in 10 international conferences. Public talks, TV talks, news in local newspaper, a YouTube video and two open-day workshops addressed to families are some of the events organized for disseminate science to broad public. Due to the high applicability of the research carried out, one of the main pillars in the communication strategy of our project has been the technical dissemination to stakeholders (potential end-users, commercial agents, industrial exhibition, among others). More than 50 meetings, open workshops and events have been arranged by PAS during the whole life of the project.

Final results and their potential impact:
-In-depth scientific knowledge of bioprocesses for removal of volatile organic compounds from industrial air emissions: key-design parameters and control mechanisms, knowledge transferred from laboratory to the industrial field.
- Commercial exploitation of the new hybrid biotechnology in the EU market, with lower cross media effects compared to conventional physical and chemical technologies.
- Expansion of the biotrickling filtration technology to sectors that use in their production process different solvents than highly soluble alcohols.
- Confirmation of biotrickling filtration as best available technique for the treatment of styrene in sectors such as pultrusion.
- A built on networking platform to improve service monitoring of bioprocesses by PAS Solutions. This platform is potentially marketable as a stand-alone product for an easy and cost effective data processing and monitoring of any industrial installation.
- Reinforcement of the professional career of researchers.
- Enrichment of personal and professional background of PhD students, giving them better work perspectives and opportunities for employment in the EU market, and improving the reputation of Universitat de València.
- Enlargement of PAS Solutions’ innovative capacity and research methods, making more accurate technical and commercial calculations that improved the product design, control, scalability and application of their biotechnologies.
- Provide EXEL Composites with a cost-effective and robust technology for the control of styrene air emissions, with potential investment and operational savings for its installation in other factories of the EXEL Group.
- New challenging research projects have been identified and are being performed between the three partners of the Consortium, both in the competitive academia and industrial areas that reinforced the lasting collaboration between them.

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