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Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2018-08-31

As the effluent standards for municipal wastewater treatment plants are tightening, Water Boards are investing more in technologies for wastewater treatments, which can drastically enhance the effluent quality, and bring new opportunities and possibilities to reuse the effluent (agriculture, industrial uses, recovery of humid zones, street cleaning and recreational uses, etc.). With this regard, wastewater treatment through the use of membrane bioreactor (MBR) can be an exceptional alternative to increase the reclaimed water as a worldwide application. However, the main problem of the current MBRs is the high cost of the technology, which is limiting the wide market deployment of this kind of technology. REMEB project proposes a new type of MBR which will significantly decrease the cost of the technology. The problem of current inorganic membranes is their high cost. REMEB ceramic membranes are based on low-cost materials, by-products from agricultural and industrial processes, such as olive stones (from olive oil production) used as pore formers, marble powder and chamotte (from fired tile scrap). By means of the introduction of these waste products, the price of the low cost ceramic membrane will be reduced in comparison with commercial ceramic membranes, made from alumina, zirconia or titania. In summary, the overall objectives of the REMEB project are the implementation and validation of a low-cost ceramic membrane bioreactor (MBR) in a Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), the study of the impact and replication of the technology for the water reuse in regions with water scarcity and the industrial sector, and finally, the definition of a proper business plan to start the commercialization of the technology, once the project will be finished.
As general objective of the project, all the work carried out during this reporting period (and the previous) has been oriented towards the implementation and validation of a MBR based on flat sheet recycled ceramic membranes in a Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). With this regard, all the foreseen activities have been developed. First of all, different versions of the ceramic membranes have been manufactured and validated. The REMEB MBR has been built according to the specifications of Aledo WWTP, set in WP2. Within WP3 it was defined the procedure for manufacturing the membranes, and an external ceramic company was subcontracted by FACSA to produce different sets of industrial membranes, following the specifications fixed for the project partners. In addition, an optimization of the membrane manufacturing process was carried out and different wastes from different sources from Italy, Turkey and Spain were explored. This work was complemented by the progress performed within WP4, in which the REMEB cassette and MBR was designed and manufactured to validate the membranes at real scale in the Aledo WWTP. REMEB partners have also worked in other non-technical aspects, related to the replication of the technology in both, municipal and industrial wastewaters (WP5), definition of a business plan and an exploitation plan (WP6) and, very intensely, in the dissemination and communication actions of the project (WP7).
Up-to-now, the employment of ceramic membranes becomes unviable in a great number of applications, such as municipal wastewater treatment, due to the high economic costs that they imply. Therefore, this is the reason why this system is not widely implanted in the sector. Ceramic membranes present noteworthy benefits that make them particularly appropriate for their application in MBR systems. The main advantages of ceramic membranes are their better chemical, thermal and mechanical properties, which make possible to operate them under severe conditions and also to apply harsh cleaning procedures (high temperature and strong cleaning reagents). The ceramic membranes functionality in the filtration treatments is based on its high permeability and reduced pore size. This is usually achieved by the combination of a porous support and a selective layer with a reduced thickness and small pore size. High permeability supports are normally obtained by the addition of pore formers, materials that are oxidized or decomposed during the sintering step, generating the required support porosity. The most widely used pore former in low cost ceramic membranes are starches from different sources. Nevertheless, different waste products, such as orujillo, paper industry wastes or almond shell have been employed as pore formers.
The utilization of industrial or agroindustrial wastes as pore formers had not been applied previously in the manufacture of ceramic membranes. In addition, until now, no other types of wastes, such as marble dust or chamotte, have been included in the composition. These materials are not pore formers, but can be introduced in the ceramic membranes composition, to provide calcium oxide (marble dust) or to improve the extrusion performance. REMEB has developed this double approach, including both kinds of wastes to reduce the cost of the membranes.
Concerning the impact of the developed solution, it can be mentioned the economic impact, related to the exploitation potential and the good commercial prospects of the technology. Although the specific business plan will be developed during the second part of the project, it has been already perceived a great interest from the industry in the progress of the project and the future replication actions to be performed. With this regard, a specific action plan is being defined within WP5 and WP6 in order to define these aspects. The future exploitation actions will provide new market opportunities and jobs and will contribute to position Europe as global leader in water technologies. Regarding the environmental and societal aspects, the introduction of this kind of technology will foster the concepts of circular economy by reusing different kind of wastes for the membrane manufacturing and increasing the possibilities to enhance the water effluent quality in WWTPs. The MBR will bring new opportunities and possibilities to reuse the effluent. All these aspects will be very positive for the water sector and, also, for the final users.