Skip to main content

Sustainable Water treatment and Nutrient reuse options

Final Report Summary - SUWANU (Sustainable Water treatment and Nutrient reuse options)

Executive Summary:
Agricultural practices put the biggest pressure on fresh water resources for irrigation (55% of the water use in Europe) and on fertilizer usage. The European farmers face serious problems such as freshwater scarcity and nutrient availability, extreme climate conditions and the growing demand of the increasing population. This results in rising prices for mineral fertilizers and food, risky measures such as untreated wastewater applications on fields, and environmental damages from overexploitation of resources. Even though important local efforts have been made on research activities and initiatives for wastewater treatment and reuse in agriculture, an integrated approach is needed among regions which are developing such research, incentivizing scientific, governmental and business collaboration within wastewater reuse in Europe and supporting the establishment of common European guidelines and parameters for water and nutrient exploitation efficiency.
In this sense, the main goal of this project is to develop technologies offering a transnational cooperation service within “research-driven clusters”, involving universities, regional authorities, research centers, technology developers, enterprises, farmers, and farmer´s associations related to wastewater treatment and to agriculture from five different countries: Germany, Spain, Greece, Malta and Bulgaria. Such service will provide and facilitate exchange of know-how on alternatives for water and nutrient resources for all project members, create business opportunities in the area of focus and further expand support to stakeholders from countries outside the consortium, concurrently providing solutions to the aforementioned problems Europe is faced with.

Project Context and Objectives:
Agricultural practices put the biggest pressure on fresh water resources for irrigation (55% of the water use in Europe) and on fertilizer usage. The European farmers face serious problems such as freshwater scarcity and nutrient availability, extreme climate conditions and the growing demand of the increasing population. This results in rising prices for mineral fertilizers and food, risky measures such as untreated wastewater applications on fields, and environmental damages from overexploitation of resources. Even though important local efforts have been made on research activities and initiatives for wastewater treatment and reuse in agriculture, an integrated approach is needed among regions which are developing such research, incentivizing scientific, governmental and business collaboration within wastewater reuse in Europe and supporting the establishment of common European guidelines and parameters for water and nutrient exploitation efficiency.
With a special focus on small- and medium-sized companies, the SuWaNu Project consortium will develop strategies to enhance the innovative capabilities on resource efficiency, agricultural and environmental sector, improving cooperation on the regional and European level, integrating research-driven clusters across Europe in order to promote regional economic development and worldwide competitiveness of European companies.
In this sense, clusters have been formed following the quadruple helix approach and involving academia, SME technology developers, SME farmers, and wastewater treatment and agriculture associations from five different countries: Germany, Spain, Greece, Malta and Bulgaria.
SuWaNu main objective is to support the cooperation and integration between five clusters in order to improve research and technological development and to encourage real implementation of technological solutions as well as to increase investments at regional level. Through SuWaNu project, the participating clusters will develop a Joint Action Plan (JAP) and Business Plans at European level to drive economic development in the selected topics of wastewater reuse and agriculture sector.
Through SuWaNu project, the five participating regional clusters will be coordinated in order to develop a Joint Action Plan (JAP) at European level to drive economic development through research and technological development activities in the selected topics of wastewater reuse and agriculture sector.
Innovation objectives
• Strengthen the research potential of European regions, in particular by improving regional research-driven cluster development in wastewater treatment for water and nutrient reuse in agriculture, increasing researcher`s potential and inter-sectorial mobility between research and industry, enriching existing research clusters, improving awareness of co-operation possibilities and better co-ordination of research initiatives;
• Strengthen the European agricultural sector, which faces severe environmental legislation and concurrently strong reductions in profit margins due to increasing fertilizer prices and water shortages;
• Create business opportunities between SMEs, SME Associations and RTDs, enhanced via public authorities support through adequate policy formulations;
• Creating Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) between local municipalities (water authorities) responsible for wastewater treatment and agricultural enterprises (farmer) for common investments in sustainable and resource efficient wastewater treatment and reuse technologies;
• Create a win-win situation between the agricultural and the wastewater treatment sector, which is normally approached as a cost-demanding service, generating valuable end-products such as water and nutrients, concurrently decreasing the agricultural sector´s dependency of highly priced and over-exploited resources such as fresh water and mineral fertilizers;
• Coordinating RTDs, regional authorities, SMEs and SME-AGs to take an integrated and more proactive approach towards wastewater and nutrient reuse, improving Europe´s economic situation and environmental conditions;
• Presenting effective exploitation and dissemination strategy to further enhance the impact of the project among SMEs, SEM-AGs, RTDs and other stakeholders, elevating the degree of engagement and the profile of the project both within the cities involved as partners in the project and within other cities in Europe;
• Providing a better use of structural funds in R&D by improving synergies between economic and regional policies, mainly by developing research regional strategies that regional authorities may integrate in their economic development strategies.
• Developing of at least one specific R&D proposal on wastewater reuse in agriculture for funding in each of the targeted regions
SuWaNu will achieve the proposed stimulus to innovation through establishing a network following a Joint Action Plan focused on increasing links and cooperation among stakeholders, as well as in the development of concrete business plans and application. SuWaNu will thus act as a catalyst resulting in increased technology transfer, research and commercial cooperation both at regional and transnational level. SuWaNu will therefore focus on the following scientific and technological objectives:
Specific scientific and technological objectives
• Identify gaps of research (selection and development of technologies, suitable technological mapping, main actors) for promoting environmental industries' competitiveness; focusing on technologies (irrigation, fertigation, monitoring and control) for markets with high growth potential. This agenda will include development perspectives, strategic goals and concrete development activities to be pursued by the regions in the future in order to improve the competitiveness of environmental industries in Europe (task 1.1);
• Reinforce and better design the regional policies, analyzing current RTD policy issues supporting wastewater reuse as a resource, maintaining in the same time the dynamics and the potentiality of this sector (task 1.2);
• Identify barriers and success factors of regional research-driven clusters through a SWOT analysis resulted from the evaluation of their state of play (task 1.3);
• Development of a cross-regional joint research agenda, linking other research platforms to most suited sustainable wastewater treatment and reuse technologies (task 1.4 and 2.1);
• Establishment of permanent links between the involved regional clusters by the development of a Joint Action Plan (JAP), identifying the partners involved, the activities proposed and the funding schemes integrating both regional and European funds (Structural Funds, Framework Programme and Competitiveness and Innovation Programme) (task 2.2);
• The JAP will support further development of different concrete business plans on wastewater treatment technologies and reuse options in agriculture for each cluster (task 2.3);
• Supporting strategic collaboration of innovative environmental industry clusters in Europe, by developing new cluster initiatives in other EU regions (task 3.1) developing a internationalization strategy (task 3.2) assisted with an information kit to every new potential member (task 3.3)
• Exchange of best practices and complementary staff exchanges between actors in different regional research driven clusters. Particular effort will be developed in order to obtain solutions to address competitiveness through innovation in rural areas (task 3.4);
• Development of training workshops aimed to involve and train SMEs, research and public stakeholders from other regions beyond the project partners (task 4.1);
• Providing guidance and solutions for regional policy makers and public authorities as well as improving RTD policies in existing clusters from other European region. This objective will be achieved through the development of guidance reports for authorities and less developed regions (task 4.2);
• Support for SMEs in research and technology transfer. The project aims to strengthen the expertise and use of SMEs, the largest group in environmental clusters, in R&D benefits. To improve international connections with similar companies and research institutes, the project promotes several dissemination methodologies to boost awareness, specialist skills and knowledge among SMEs; RTDs and regional authorities (WP 5);
• Setting up a pan-European platform to connect the environmental industries with experts and research institutions, promote synergies between regional, national, EU & research policies and to reach sufficient critical mass to acquire and develop international visibility. Thus the project consortium aims to collaborate with further local and regional partners that have a similar ambition in order to link environmental and scientific clusters all over Europe in this sector (all WPs).

Project Results:
The main benefit of the SuWaNu project has been that different countries and regions learn from each other how the same challenges related to water use have been addressed. This is especially important in a field which requires the coordination and motivation of different actors which have to agree on a strategy. SuWaNu consortium has understood that the development of such strategy is crucial for solving the problems arisen in the water and agricultural sector. For that reason the development of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) was on focus and all the tasks were linked to the JAP.
SuWaNu has promoted the exchange of best practices supporting innovation and involvement of private companies (in particular SMEs), thus improving economic growth in this sector. Special efforts have been put in place to promote socio-economic convergence between R&D from academia and innovation from the private sector.
SuWaNu has stimulated the awareness/know-how/acceptance of wastewater as irrigation for resource efficient systems, the increased demand for water purification will create business opportunities for new treatment plants.
In particular, the project has achieved the following results:
• Identification and contact of relevant actors involved in each different regional cluster (WP1 and 3): Key actors have been identified in order to develop an adapted dissemination and communication strategy which reach them in the most effective way.
• Characterization of the target regions in terms of waswewater reuse in agriculture (WP1): The consortium has performed a detailed analysis of the state of play of the five participating research-driven clusters.
• SWOT analyses for the target regions (WP1): This report has presented strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from an economical and regional market perspective giving a picture of real opportunities in these markets for technological SMEs. Findings were used as the basis for the Joint Action Plan and Business Plans in work package 2.
• Links with other EU initiatives (WP1): Other EU initiative in the fields of water management, reuse and sustainable agriculture have been identified during the project. Responsible organizations of those initiatives have been involved in SuWaNu activities such as the capacitiy building workshops. This has increased the impact of the action.
• Development of a research topic agenda (WP2): SuWaNu has identified those topics which should be researched by RTD in order to facilitate the implementation of reuse solutions in the target regions.
• Development of a Joint Action and Business Plans (WP2): The JAP is the main result of SuWaNu project and defined the strategy for the target regions to achieve and effective implementation of reuse. Four strategic lines have been defined and for each strategic line, there are actions (i.e. projects) and specific steps to implementation (i.e. activities). The strategy will guide organizations within and outside the consortium to overcome the obstacles identifies and act in cooperation so that the impact of the project can be higher.
• Development of Business Plans for potential technologies on water reuse (WP2): Potential technologies for wastewater reuse have been identified and further explained in terms of market opportunities. This analyses have been very useful for the participating SMEs because it will facilitate the commercialization of their technologies for wastewater reuse.
• Actively bringing in other stakeholders, associations and other multipliers (WP3): Similar clusters in other regions have been identified and contacted. Information about the project has been sent and we have received a positive feedback about the project.
• International cooperation strategy (WP3): Europe is not the only market for reuse solutions, for that reason the consortium has defined a strategy in order to reach countries outside the EU which are a potential market for reuse solutions. These regions are mainly North Africa, Middle East, India, Turkey, and California. In general, they have to fulfill two conditions: Having a strong agricultural sector and suffering from water scarcity.
• Exchange of personnel and knowledge within the consortium (WP3)
• Organization of 8 workshops specially targeted at technological institutions, authorities and ends users for potential market extension (WP4): All the participating countries have organized capacity building workshops aimed at transferring the strategies and evaluations performed during the project to relevant actors. Key speakers outside the consortium were invited to the workshops in orders to have a wider perspective of the problems of water scarcity for agriculture and the potentialities of reuse solutions.
• Development of guidance reports for the creation of new clusters in the field of wastewater reuse in irrigation (WP4): Guidelines to support the creation of new clusters have been developed in the frame of the project. These guidelines include the basis for a cluster formation and explain the particularities of the water reuse sector which should taken into account.
• Development and dissemination of project website, brochures (WP5): Web-site, banners, leaflets and posters have been developed in order to have a higher dissemination impact. A project logo was developed at the beginning of the project so that all the communications and materials could have a homogeneous image.
• Development of an e-learning platform (WP5): An e-learning platform has been put in place. More than 200 people have been registered and therefore have accessed to SuWaNu main results (SWOT analyses, JAP, Research Agenda, Business Plan, Cluster Guidelines, etc.).
• Design, development and launching of a virtual marketplace focused on technologies and innovations in resource efficiency from wastewater reuse in agriculture (WP5): More than 1000 people have been registered in the SuWaNu market place. This is a platform supported by SuWaNu web site which shows the profile of all the registered organizations.
• Development of three project videos for project dissemination (WP5): Three project videos have been developed in the frame of the project. The first video included a general presentation of the project, while the second and third videos were focused on the results of SuWaNu project being addressed to end users and authorities respectively.

Potential Impact:
By spreading our experience, SuWaNu initiative will be of a great benefit for new emerging areas of Europe to gain the expertise that has been already created. This will save time will to implement the necessary measures needed to improve water management.
The obtained results from cluster interaction within SuWaNu can be turned into concrete results such as technological and economic development of wastewater treatment systems within the European market. The growing demand already exists for accessible, alternative water and nutrient sources, in order to establish sustainable agriculture.
In this sense, SuWaNu consortium has contributed to the reduction of the costs to SME farmers for irrigation water and fertilisers, while simultaneously diminishing the pressure on European freshwater resources and decreasing the negative environmental impact of improper wastewater disposal. The SuWaNu project will increase employment in the agricultural and wastewater industries while enhancing food security in the water scarce regions of Europe.
Participating farmer SMEs are expected to increase their annual turnover by 15% within 3 years after the end of the project through exploiting the obtained knowledge and experiences. The technological SMEs will also increase their market penetration in Europe and probably in other Mediterranean or MENA countries (e.g. Israel, Northern Africa, Middle East, Balkan countries). Acquiring a new range of clients will not only result in the direct benefits of selling the specialized technologies but also in indirect benefits encompassing all other services (operation and maintenance, etc.) included in such a contract. Such a development could push the participating SMEs to a market leading position in designing and managing combined wastewater treatment and irrigation solutions.
The important impact on the European market is that fresh produce will no longer underlie erratic ups and downs. Availability and prices of fresh produce on the European market will be stabilized in the future due to a safe wastewater application for agricultural irrigation that fosters independence from limited and fossil resources. The current threat for European farmers, feeling the pressure through competitors from outside Europe trying to invade the market with cheap products, or losing entire crops during heavy drought periods will be easier handled in the future, if not eliminated. Fresh produce from European farmers will embody sustainability, quality and cost effectiveness while pleasing European costumers and meeting the growing demands for sustainable products.
The impact of SuWaNu on the European market and its SMEs will be significant. From the presently 61 million hectare arable land, already approximately 11 million hectare of crops are irrigated (FAO, 2011) (Gunter Wriedt, 2008). More than 9 million European farmers are using already different irrigation systems. Based on the effects of climate variations and increasing competition, this figure is expected to rise significantly within the upcoming years. Additionally the fierce competition for water resources will continue to rise. Therefore, the European farmers are highly interested in alternative and safe water sources for irrigation. Thus, the commercial potential of the SuWaNu research area is high, especially as adaptation of wastewater treatment systems included in the research to be exploited within workshops will be able to “upgrade” many existing systems as well. A competitive market with high growing rates offers enormous potential for the current and future commercialization of innovative treatment and irrigation technologies. In addition, the application of reuse technologies supported by SuWaNu allows for a water supply more independent from climatic changes and drought periods, providing a secure supply with irrigation water along the entire cultivation period.
Based on its development targets, SuWaNu has an enormous market potential for European agriculture. It will allow the European farmers to improve their cultivation processes by improving the current crop production, which will ultimately lead to a substantial reduction in production costs (reduced costs for water and fertilizer), significant increase of productivity, and thus higher revenues. A reduction of only 15% of the presently used mineral fertilizer (ca. 450€/ ha) through replacement and substitution would result in a total saving of ca. 750.000.000 € alone for the now irrigated areas in the EU.
It is expected that over the next 10 years more than 700.000 sprinkler systems and 1.200.000 drip irrigation systems (European Commission, 2011) will be sold alone in Europe. Non-European companies (mainly from China and Brazil) are entering the European market for irrigation technologies, offering standard low-cost solutions. The SuWaNu proposed development will give the European consortium technological advantages and will improve competiveness against these emerging markets. By acquiring a whole new range of clients through offering this new systems of resource efficiency, targeting wastewater for agricultural production instead of sludge disposal, will not only result in the direct benefits of selling the specialist technologies but also in indirect benefits encompassing all other services included in such a contract. Such a development could push the participating SMEs to a market leader position in designing and managing combined treatment and irrigation solutions, focusing on clients in Europe, the Mediterranean, but also in the Middle East and North Africa.
The saving potential is very significant for potential agricultural end-users. By just 20 % less applied water and fertilizer per hectare farmers will save around 650 €/ha/year. Most of the European farmers are cultivating between 10 and 15 hectares. (European Coimmission, Agriculture and Rural Development, 2011)
For an estimation of time-to-market establishment, after the project termination, direct market applications are expected to have increased relevantly. Clusters will own and be able to share the required knowledge about possible malfunctions or optimization/decision-tree paths regarding new technology implementation, as well as relevant factors for the overall evaluation of the system performance. SMEs envisage market impacts not later than one year after the project has ended. A longer period of time could seriously risk losing the market to competitors. Major activities after the termination of the project will be primarily focused on organizational issues, such as cluster expansion. The guideline for further cluster development could support and incentivize elaboration of new clusters on the same research area.

More precisely, by implementing the SuWaNu activities, the consortium has contributed to the following impacts:
• Improving the interaction between different actors involved in the water and fertilizer sector.
• Enhancing legal framework on treated wastewater use to ensure health and environmental protection.
• Reducing costs for SME farmers for irrigation water and fertilizers because of the increase in the adoption of reuse solutions
• Reducing current pressure on European fresh water resources due to the use of alternative water and nutrient sources such as treated wastewater
• Developing sustainable irrigation schemes enabling safe agricultural production in water scarce regions in Europe and reducing negative environmental impact (soil and food contamination) of improper waste water disposal and reuse;
• Increasing the stabilization of food export market prices through food security;
• Protecting /increasing employment in the agricultural and wastewater sector;
• Increase skill levels knowledge, acceptance, and practices on water management and wastewater reuse practices;
• Supporting SMEs in the implementation of novel and efficient solutions for treatment and reuse of wastewater to present them to European´s policy makers for further support.
• Provide cost-benefit analysis for SMEs and farmers of Irrigating and fertilizing technology with alternative resource efficient methods under real market conditions
• Enable safe and beneficial agricultural production in water scarce regions in Europe (income opportunities for a large number of SME farmers)
• Increase SMEs and farmers´ knowledge, acceptance, and practices of new methods, technologies and concepts for wastewater reuse
• Protect/increase employment in the agricultural sector
• Reduction of the negative environmental impact (soil and food contamination) of improper waste water disposal and reuse.
• Reduce citizen´s health problems associated with improper application of wastewater disposal and application to agriculture
• Support European´s policy makers and legal representative with needed information and strategies for a long-term reduction of environmental pollution.

List of Websites:
Project public web site: www.suwanu.eu

Coordinator contacts:

Rafael Casielles
e-mail: rcasielles@bioazul.com
Tel: +34 951 047 290 - Extension: 103
Fax: +34 951 256 735

Antonia Lorenzo
e-mail: alorenzo@bioazul.com
Tel: +34 951 047 290 - Extension: 109
Fax: +34 951 256 735

Scientific coordinator contact:

Mirko Hänel
e-mail: mhaenel@ttz-bremerhaven.de
Tel: +4947180934191
Fax: +494714832129

Related documents