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REcovery and REcycling of nutrients TURNing wasteWATER into added-value products for a circular economy in agriculture

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - Water2REturn (REcovery and REcycling of nutrients TURNing wasteWATER into added-value products for a circular economy in agriculture)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-12-31

Water scarcity and resource recovery are global concerns. Solutions to use water in the optimum way become a must when dealing with water-intensive industries like slaughtering, whose wastewater contains a high proportion of organic matter. This wastewater can be a valuable source of nutrients if properly recovered.
Based on the above, Water2REturn (W2R) consortium understands the environmental and economic constraints of the slaughtering industry as a market opportunity. To seize it, we propose an integrated solution for slaughterhouse wastewater treatment, as well as for the recovery of valuable nutrients with high market value in the agriculture sector. W2R adopts a Circular Economy approach where nutrients (and energy resources) present in wastewaters are safely and efficiently recycled in different forms and injected back into the agricultural system as new raw materials. Wastewater is, therefore, a source of nutrients, energy and water, and no longer a waste; and wastewater treatment facilities turn into "biorefineries". W2R ´s business model is based in a viable, cross-sectoral and integrated perspective, while considering relevant legal, societal and market challenges.
W2R Innovation Action is co-funded by the EC under H2020, call “Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy” (H2020-IND- CE-2016- 17) and topic “Water in the context of the circular economy” (CIRC-02- 2016-2017). It brings together 15 multidisciplinary actors from 8 different EU countries – 9 SMEs, 2 associations, 1 research centre and 3 universities.
The main objectives to be addressed are:
- Development of a demonstrative application for slaughterhouse wastewater treatment and large-scale nutrient recovery in a real case study, the slaughterhouse “Matadero del Sur” (MdS) in Salteras (Spain).
- Manufacturing of organic-source fertilisers and biostimulants in production lines built up within W2R timeframe in Spain, and tested in Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania and Spain.
- Nutrients recovery rates of 90-95 % and reduction of wastewater discharged to the environment by 90%.
- Reduction of waste diverted to landfills by 80%. After removing the organic elements from the slaughterhouse wastewater, the remaining inorganic fraction will be the only residual element taken to landfills.
- Energy self-sufficiency of slaughterhouses wastewater treatment plants through biogas upgrading and valorisation, with the consequent reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions.
We also aim to create new business opportunities and green jobs, as well as to promote wide and fast market uptake of W2R processes and products, while improving their acceptance through capacity building and awareness raising.
Main achievements so far are:
- The slaughterhouse wastewater of MdS has been characterised, indispensable to further develop a conceptual design, initial sizing, capacity calculations and specifications for each process unit. All preliminary analyses lab tests regarding the best conditions for the sludge fermentation, the anaerobic digestion of the hydrolysed sewage slaughterhouse sludge and the algal biomass growing were also conducted.
- The detailed engineering designs (water, sludge, algae and energy lines) have been done, as well as the integrated design for the entire W2R system.
- Work onsite has already started, and currently preparation works are in progress – basement, access path, electrical and hydraulic connections, etc. Quotation and purchasing processes are also ongoing, and algae line installation will be started very soon.
- Activities related to the agronomic products formulation have started, concretely those related to the hydrolysed sludge and the algal biomass, the basis for manufacturing one biostimulant each. First essays on nitrate concentrate, the basis for manufacturing the bio-fertiliser, will come later.
- Life-cycle assessment (LCA) activities are already underway; the goal and scope definition has been developed, an initial LCA on the algal treatment system installed in Ljubljana has been performed as a first approximation, and Social LCA work is ongoing.
- The consortium is performing a continuous work on stakeholders’ identification and engagement to multiply the project impacts. Questionnaires tailored to specific stakeholder groups — the animal slaughtering industry, the wastewater treatment industry, the fertiliser industry, farmers, and consumers & NGOs— have been launched and the first results have been analysed to identify their interests and influence. This will be the basis for a future engagement strategy that will be tailored for each of the identified categories.
- With regards to communication and dissemination activities, the project website ( is already available in EN, ES, FR and DE. It is continuously updated and monitored. In addition, social networks, specially Twitter, are very active (410 followers and 717 tweets already).
Current approach for industrial wastewater treatment is nutrient removal, instead of nutrient recovery and recycling. Our system constitutes a real technological breakthrough, as it allows producing relevant amounts of high-quality agronomic products. W2R closes the existing gap in the implementation at EU scale of highly-efficient combined technologies to produce valuable recycled agronomic products ready to manufacture and commercialise at international level.
Additionally, to cover the current gap in knowledge and end-user perception for novel fertilising products recovered from bio-based sources, W2R incorporates the social perspective by engaging end-users (meat producers, farmers, land owners, consumer associations) at early stages of the project.
W2R project addresses the following impacts:
- Decrease the dependency on primary nutrient resources (mainly nitrogen and phosphate) imports and increase the supply security at EU level.
- Reduce the adverse effects of nutrient emissions on water bodies.
- Close the water and nutrients cycles in the whole production and consumption value chain. The modular character of the innovative W2R’s technologies makes them an adaptable and replicable solution for other industries (e.g.: animal farms, tanneries, dairies, brewing, etc.)
- Improve the quality of data on nutrient flows, thus providing important information for investments into the recycling of recovered nutrients.
- Create new green jobs and industries around nutrient recovery and recycling from water, including fertilisers manufacture and exports.
- Create new business opportunities for industry and SMEs in the EU and improving the competitiveness of EU enterprises.
- Improve the policy and market conditions in Europe and globally for large scale deployment of innovative solutions for the Circular Economy.
- Provide evidence-based knowledge regarding the enabling framework conditions (such as the regulatory or policy framework) that facilitate the transition to a Circular Economy.
W2R commercial outcomes will be:
- An integrated system to treat wastewater while recovering nutrients, customisable according to the needs of the end user.
- Three raw materials: nitrate and phosphate concentrate, hydrolysed sludge and algal biomass, the basis for further manufacturing agronomic products.
- Three agronomic products: an organic fertiliser and two biostimulants, ready to be commercialised.
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