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Sustainable and integrated urban water system management

Final Report Summary - SANITAS (Sustainable and integrated urban water system management)

Marie Curie Network for Initial Training
Seventh Framework Programme
Grant Agreement Nr. 289193

The overall objective of SANITAS was to improve the management of urban (waste)water systems (UWS) in an integrated and sustainable way in a context of current and emerging challenges, through training and research. Specifically, SANITAS research objectives pursue the development of new knowledge, tools and technologies to support UWS management to cope with current and future UWS scenarios, that are driven by industry needs and societal concerns. This progress involves expanding on the state-of-the-art technologies to deal with water quantity and quality and energy issues, to extend existing and develop new models, control systems and sustainable strategies of the different elements of the UWS, covering sewer systems, WWTPs and receiving waters and to develop tools for multi-criteria evaluation and decision support in planning and operation of UWS.

Simultaneously, the training objectives addressed the lack of overall wastewater professionals in the technical and complementary skills that the next generation of UWS professionals requires. Technical skills include process control, modelling, and decision support tools, from theory to practical applications. Complementary skills encompass entrepreneurship, communication, intellectual property rights and management. Significant efforts were also devoted to connect science to the policy realm, i.e. guiding the fellows on the relevance of policy for water professionals’ careers as well as teaching them how to formulate policy inputs based on researchers outcomes. In this sense, a comprehensive report on the potential impact of SANITAS on the EU environmental policy is available at:

The individual research projects entail most of the SANITAS research work, each one dealing with a different but complementary research question. SANITAS research activities covered innovative experimental works in specific topics (e.g. development of new knowledge and technologies) but also the development of practical tools (such as multicriteria decision support systems, cost-benefit analysis, benchmarking tools), in addition to process modelling and control. When needed, projects evaluate current future policy frameworks or formulate new policy scenarios. The complexity of SANITAS topics increases the need for comprehensive approaches, embracing integrated and interdisciplinary analysis and involvement of agents from industrial, academic and water practitioners sectors.

The IRP of Marina Arnaldos (Acciona) was devoted to research approaches to decreasing energy costs in the operation of membrane bioreactor (MBR) systems for water reuse. The results show significantly lower energy consumption compared to the previous MBR module installed in the plant. Next step involves the implementation in the full-scale plants that Acciona Agua is operating and this will represent an important reduction in energy consumption in the plants. The IRP of Lara Paulo (Wageningen University) also dealt with energy optimisation, in this case offering insights into the key microorganisms playing a role in methanogenesis (anaerobic digestion) and on the effect of certain common pollutants in the decrease of biogas production.

The aim of Celia Castro’s project (Ghent University) was to optimize the design and control of granular sludge partial nitritation-anammox reactors for wastewater treatment, with special attention on minimizing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Granular sludge anammox technology contributes to obtaining more compact and cost-efficient systems for nitrogen removal. The improvement of these systems in terms of greenhouse gas reduction also adds an important environmental value. Greenhouse gases, together with sulphide, emissions are also important in sewer systems. This was the aim of Joana Batista’s project (ESR5b, ICRA), which combines experimental work on real sewers with a sewer-simulating laboratory pilot scale. This research will aid to reduce the effects of sulfide and methane in urban water systems, resulting in healthier sewers and a healthier environment.

A set of individual projects approached modelling of new processes (e.g. hydrodynamic, biodegradation or physicochemical processes) or new state variables (phosphorous, GHG or micropollutants). The objective of Usman Rehman’s project (Ghent University) was the integration of biological and hydrodynamic models and its application to full-scale plants. Model-based scenario analysis will allow optimising liquid and gas mass transfer and thus allowing for optimization of the overall WWTP removal efficiency. The objective of the research carried out by Kimberly Solon (Lund University) was to extend the Benchmark Simulation Model no. 2 (BSM2) by extending the Anaerobic Digestion Model no. 1 (ADM1) to include physicochemical processes related to phosphorus, sulfur and other relevant variables. The final product of the research project is an extended benchmark simulation model and protocol for WWTPs designed for C, N and P removal. The tasks of Laura Snip (DTU) were to extend BSM2 with deterministic models concerning micropollutants’ biodegradation and greenhouse gas (GHG) production. Complementary to the deterministic modelling of GHG, Jose Porro’s work (UdG) focussed on qualitative modelling to estimate the risk of GHG emissions from the integrated UWS, as well as the risk of solid separation problems. Scenario analysis will allow to optimize the performance of the UWS according to traditional and new evaluation criteria based on GHG emissions and micropollutants, providing a more robust means of evaluating environmental and operational trade-offs in energy neutrality optimization schemes. Bertand Vallet (Aquafin) developed a model-based tool for cost effective control strategies of the pollution contribution from combined sewer overflows in UWS. The tool will be able to discriminate different management scenarios depending on their cost and their modelled pollution flux discharged in order to help stakeholders to take advised decisions.

Four research projects are dealing with the development of decision support tools for the integrated UWS optimisation under different scenarios. Ramesh Saagi work (Lund University) was to develop a system-wide benchmarking model for UWS, including models for sewers, WWTP and receiving water. This extended benchmark model can be applied to study the couplings between the individual components of an UWS and also provide a platform for researchers/engineers for objective evaluation of integrated control strategies. Fanling Meng (Exeter University) proposed a new way of consenting point-source discharges as an innovative approach to regulate effluent discharges by real-time control of UWS, with the goal of maximising environmental benefits in a more cost-effective way. Xavier Garcia (YRA) advanced towards a comprehensive methodology based on Cost-Benefit analysis to be applied elsewhere to economically evaluate different management strategies and environmental problem-solving at the river basin level. Finally, the aim of Antonia Hadjimichael’s project (UdG) was to develop a decision support system for the evaluation of the sustainability of different alternatives for UWS design, upgrading and operation. A general conceptual framework has been developed to evaluate and compare scenarios and measures applied in the management, through Cost-Benefit and Risk Analyses using economic, environmental and social indicators.