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Scale-up of low-carbon footprint material recovery techniques in existing wastewater treatment plants

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SMART-Plant (Scale-up of low-carbon footprint material recovery techniques in existing wastewater treatment plants)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-05-31

The general objective of SMART-Plant was to validate and to address to the market a portfolio of n.7 eco-innovative solutions (the SMARTechnologies) that, singularly or combined, can renovate and upgrade existing municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs).
After 4 years implementation, SMART-Plant validated n.9 SMARTechs able to considerably reduce the operational costs of WWTPs (energy savings, GHG emission reduction, sludge reduction) while at the same time resulting in energy, nutrients and other materials recovery (cellulose; PHA; CaP; struvite; Ammonia and ammonium sulphate). Despite resource recovery and reuse are still perceived by WWTPs as an added value, not a selling point itself, the operational savings and performance improvements proposed by the SMARTechs perfectly respond to the real current and future needs of the water utilities.
Three SMARTechs have been certified through ETV - Evironmental Technology Verification.
SMART-Plant validated also n.2 digital support tools/systems for real-time monitoring of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions and support decision on the optimal configuration of a WWTP.
The materials recovered by the SMARTechs were used to develop new valuable SMART-Products (such as biocomposites, fertilizers, additives) that were tested to comply with law and market requirements. Results in terms of chemical safety, concentration of pesticides and heavy metals, agronomic value, quality and performances were encouraging, so the portfolio of SMART-Products was presented to the attention of the water, chemical, agricultural and construction sector to start creating new-value chains.

Thanks to SMART-Plant, the resource recovery technologies are ready and easily available at WWTPs, pushing the market and the legislation to overcome the residual social prejudice and legislative barriers.

Encouraging and tangible results were reached by SMART-Plant in terms of policy support at national and European level to overcome legislative barriers, both directly and through the participation to EU stakeholders platforms activities.
During the 3rd period (M37-M48) the consortium focused its efforts on:
- the completion of the sustainability (technical, economic, social and environmental) assessment of the SMART-Plant solutions;
- exploring and demonstrating the transferability, replicability and marketability of SMARTechnologies and SMART-Products in different sectors, countries and contexts;
- progressing and finalizing the ETV of eligible SMARTechs;
- paving the way for exploitation beyond the SMART-Plant project by delivering a solid plan of activities facilitated by the use of digital support tools (for monitoring, assessment, and decision making - DSS);
- supporting policy (e.g. sludge management and end-of-waste criteria) at National and EU level in line with the priorities of the EC;
- increasing visibility by publishing high impact scientific ISI papers;
- the organization of the large international SMART-Plant final conference with more than 375 participants (IWA RR 2019) and follow-up activities.

The SMARTechs operated as main source of (i) recovered materials, to develop SMART-Products and (ii) long-term data to: model, assess and (in ETV eligible cases) certify the eco-innovative solutions. The outcome was used in the 3rd period.
The recovered materials were used within WP3 for post-processing and SMART-Products development, characterization and testing. Optimal long-term data and performances were used in WP5 to update the model, for business development and marketing intelligence.
The project results were showcased to a broad audience of water stakeholders during the SMART-Plant final conference, organized within IWA Resource Recovery Conference 2019, 8-12 September, Venice as well as during ECOMONDO 2019.
The data collected over the long-term operation of the main-, side- and downstream SMARTechs, along with the SMART-Products characteristics, were elaborated during the last year of the project. Analyses, digital solutions, impact assessment on water tariffs, surveys and marketing activities demonstrated the sustainability and the added value of the SMARTechs and SMART-Products from a technical, environmental, social and economic point of view.

Technical added value: the majority of the main and side-stream SMARTechs fully demonstrated their capacity to reduce cost for sludge disposal, energy demand and carbon footprint, while resulting in energy efficiency and energy, nutrients and other materials recovery (such as cellulose and biopolymers). SMART-Plant validated digital support tools/systems for: (i) real-time monitoring of energy demand and GHG emissions during process operation (ii) support decision on the optimal configuration of a WWTP. Concerning the SMART-Products chemical safety, various analyses have been performed to investigate the concentration of pesticides and heavy metals of recovered materials , the agronomic value of recovered nutrients , the quality and characterisation of the consumer and/or industrial products obtained. These data can contribute to the progress of scientific research and to the decision process of utility managers and policy makers,

Environmental added value: SMART-Plant validated energy efficient water treatment technologies, able to extract and valorize valuable resources available in used water and develop new consumer and/or industrial products. The high recovery rates of the SMARTechs contribute to comply with tight nutrient discharge limits in effluent water. The SMART-Plant approach is contributing to a green and circular economy and to a long-term sustainable society, recovering new raw materials to be used for different industrial sectors. The results show that material recovery can reduce the overall energy demand and GHG emissions considerably (i.e. up to -70%),and provide operational savings at the WWTP, such as reduced aeration energy, less chemicals, or a lower sludge amount to be disposed.

Social and legislative added value: Large part of the SMART-Plant efforts were dedicated to overcoming social and legislative barriers and evaluate public attitude towards nutrients and materials recovered from wastewater. Several dissemination, stakeholder and public engagement activities were aimed to increase the awareness of the environmental benefits deriving from the uptake of water reuse and resource recovery schemes. In general, relevant legislative barriers are still in place (such as the end of waste status, the lack of harmonized European regulatory framework). However, encouraging and tangible results were reached by SMART-Plant in terms of policy support at national and European level, both directly and through the participation to EU stakeholders platforms activities.

Economic added value: The economic sustainability of most of the SMARTechs was demonstrated by OPEX savings from reduced volume of sludge to be treated, reduced energy consumption and operational efficiency. In addition, proper national/local regulatory framework can support sustainable and circular solutions, such as the SMARTechs, and incentive water utilities by benefits in the water tariff. Consultancy, feasibility studies, full-scale design activities and replications are already ongoing and will provide a solid proof of economic sustainability of the technologies.
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