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Supporting the implementation of FP6 research activities related to waste water use and recycling by using new generation greenhouse systems, adapted to the requirements of the MED partner countries

Final Report Summary- CYCLER-SUPPORT (Supporting the implementation of FP6 research activities related to waste water use and recycling by using new generation greenhouse systems ...)

Water availability in the Mediterranean countries became a dominant concern during the previous years. Water resources were limited, often salt affected, rainfall patterns showed important irregularity and landscape dehydration was escalating. On the other hand, water demand in agriculture, industry and households constantly increased.

As a result, research focused on unconventional water resources and management strategies to meet the emerging necessities, particularly in the agricultural sector. The investigated technology was related to various alternatives, including water recycling through different resources exploitation and increasing productivity through nutrients and CO2 recirculation. However, most proposals could not be implemented at a large scale due to significant cost and insufficient studies regarding the associated socioeconomic benefits, the commercial value of crops irrigated with recycled water and the potential risks of recycling techniques application.

The CYCLER-SUPPORT project aimed to investigate information gaps, disseminate the existing knowledge, identify and prioritise additional research needs and enforce cooperation and sustainable business relations. CYCLER-SUPPORT concentrated on the 'new greenhouse generation' technology, which could transform greenhouse horticulture from a water consuming to a water producing practice by optimising water efficiency and using marginal water in irrigation and evaporative cooling. Condensed water which formed a freshwater source was also produced while the nutrients' input was reduced.

Firstly, the currently undertaken research was examined and assessed, so that the achieved results were collected and the involved stakeholders which formed the main target for knowledge dissemination throughout the project were identified. The project focused on North Africa, but its outcomes addressed problems of the entire Mediterranean basin.

The available wastewater and the resulting clear water in selected experimental sites were evaluated, in terms of their quality and quantity. Emphasis was given on the potential to use wastewater for irrigation purposes and on the current situation of the greenhouse sector, including water availability as a limiting factor. The regulations on contaminants in agricultural products were reviewed, along with the findings of related research projects.

Implementation concepts were developed based on wastewater offer, minimisation of electricity requirements, regional conditions and a prospect for future decentralisation. Alternative scenarios included the provision of desalinised seawater in the greenhouses. The necessity for cost reduction was addressed via the proposal of methods to decrease greenhouse construction costs, cooling costs and irrigation technology costs, mainly through adequate pretreatment strategies.

Furthermore, CYCLER-SUPPORT investigated the economic potential of crops that were especially useful for biological wastewater treatment, in order to propose alternatives which would be profitable enough to compensate for the increased production price. It appeared that only local markets existed, which could though provide the operator with a clear benefit. The main criterion for products' selection was their applicability in the treatment process rather than the actual revenue for the yielded biomass.

The investigated scenarios were the following:
1. integration of the technologies in existing structures with low effort;
2. broader renovation actions, including various interrelated novelties; nevertheless, further investigation was required prior to this scenario application.

First estimations on the price of a closed greenhouse low-end market product resulted in costs of about three times of a current standard greenhouse. However, the proposal was potentially viable if taking into account the lack of pesticides and the environmental benefits, such as lack of soil and water contamination. The cultivation of high value non-edible plants appeared intriguing, since there was no risk of inserting contaminants in the food chain. The risk of accumulation of pollutants in closed matter circuits could be combated with a treatment of dried solid waste in pyrolysis devices, acting as a pollutant sink for organic substances.

The development and field testing of prototypes was already an objective for further research. Ten different areas of additional work were identified and a policy strategy, including the parameter of teaching and training was proposed. Recommendations on legal framework improvements and development of guidelines for integrated systems' application were also offered.

An implementation guide for the CYCLER-SUPPORT project was prepared, including suggestions for achievement of the following benefits:
1. increase of water efficiency;
2. exploitation of urban wastewater instead of mineral fertilisers and groundwater based irrigation;
3. improvement of the water and heat capacity of the land through CO2 accumulation in the soils;
4. recycling of CO2 within the greenhouses environment, resulting in increased productivity;
5. combination of innovative cooling systems, solar seawater desalinisation and brackish water exploitation.

A workshop focusing on the project objectives was organised with the participation of stakeholders of numerous countries. The activity facilitated the dissemination of knowledge and established communication between experts and decision makers. Intermediate work meetings for the project participants were also realised during CYCLER-SUPPORT execution. Information exchange was further motivated through a website construction, while various publications on journals and participations in conferences were realised.