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AcceLerate Innovation in urban wastewater management for Climate changE

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ALICE (AcceLerate Innovation in urban wastewater management for Climate changE)

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

ALICE (AcceLerate Innovation in urban wastewater management for Climate changE) project is focused on the serious risk posed by the uncertainty of the extent of climate change for the effectiveness of wastewater management. The coming decades are likely to see some geographical areas experiencing a higher risk of flooding and other areas exposed to higher risks of droughts. Both risks are associated with potentially huge economic costs. Higher precipitation, more frequent storms, and earlier melt of ice will lead to more untreated sewer overflow and will require sewer water management to adapt. Better quality of effluent will generate a higher energy demand for a sector that is already a major contributor to the carbon footprint. Severe droughts have been registered in the last decades, with the most severe effects in Mediterranean Countries. Water reuse has been identified as an alternative to water supply with untapped potential for the EU that needs to be enhanced. Addressing climate challenges will require a change in the governance of cities and public utilities in order to protect the wider environment and ensuring cities’ resilience against extreme events.

The challenges facing society in urban wastewater management cannot be solved by any one sector alone. ALICE will accelerate innovation by bringing together and exchanging knowledge between the key players who can, together, address the future techno-economic, governance, and societal challenges arising from climate change. The results will 1) benefit water utilities, 2) support political and managerial decisions in wastewater, 3) benefit wastewater equipment manufacturers, identifying new market opportunities in the EU, 4) benefit EU citizens from the improved wastewater infrastructure, the environment, and job creations.

Within this framework, the main research objectives of ALICE are to:
- OB1. improve the urban resilience of wastewater infrastructures;
- OB2. investigate the wastewater and energy nexus in wastewater treatment plants to reduce their carbon footprint, adopting a holistic approach to resource efficiency;
- OB3. enhance the reuse of reclaimed wastewater and resource recovery, exploring the leading-edge technologies of urban WW treatment to broaden its dimension in Europe;
- OB4. investigate the social behavior and acceptability issues in the development of innovative management systems for urban wastewater.
Below we report a description of the work carried out and the main results that have been achieved during the entire project towards the four research objectives previously introduced.
-OB1. ALICE project has proposed an alternative approach to the resilience assessment based on cognitive mapping that captures multiple perspectives through directly involving many professionals from a wide range of departments, both internal and external to the wastewater utility. Together with professionals from the wastewater sector in Belfast (Northern Ireland) and in Murcia (Spain), researchers illustrated how such a collection of cognitive maps in the form of causal diagrams provides a more holistic view of resilience.
- OB2. Benchmarking tools that include a suitable set of Key Performance Indicators can help WW managers to understand and better manage how energy (and other resources) are used within wastewater utilities. Renewable sources can be integrated into wastewater treatment plants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. PV systems are a good option, especially in Southern Europe. State and regions in Europe must change their laws and regulations for public water and wastewater systems to include “energy considerations” in equipment procurement and improvements, such as the “Life Cycle Assessment”.
- OB3. The integration of water-energy nexus is crucial to enhance the circular economy and the resilience of the urban water cycle by focusing on three pillars: the removal of hazard biological and chemical contaminants, the use of renewable energies for technological solutions and the benefits of urban wastewater reclamation for producing greater and safer crops. Our research has demonstrated that technologies driven by solar radiation are effective as wastewater reclamation technologies for agricultural applications.
- OB4. Researchers in collaboration with the technical staff of the water utilities have investigated urban citizens’ preferences, attitudes, and willingness to pay for the attributes of innovative urban wastewater systems. We found that water quality remains of paramount importance to consumers and that innovations in energy efficiency measures and in renewable energy are welcome both in Spain and in the UK, whilst reusing reclaimed wastewater for agriculture was considered much more important in Spain than in the UK, where society appears to be more concerned with the effects of wastewater outbursts from flooding events.
The project has been promoted through the organization of workshops, webinars, open days, the participation of ALICE beneficiaries to conferences and workshops, synergies with other projects, through the use of social media and the local press. According to the metrics provided the project has reached more than 20,000 people in Europe and outside the EU.
Ten publications have been developed and six of them are in open access and listed in the EU portal.
The research conducted within the ALICE project is above the state of art, suggesting methodologies and knowledge to boost innovation in the wastewater sector.
In the area of urban resilience of wastewater infrastructures ALICE researchers have developed a new methodology that has been developed to assess the vulnerability of the wastewater infrastructure. The method relies on cognitive maps elicited from internal and external agents of the water utility to obtain a holistic understanding of vulnerabilities as well as their potential interactions and undesired consequences.
Alice demonstrated that technologies driven by solar radiation such as solar photo-Fenton and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)/solar and other innovative processes such as photo-electrocatalysis are effective as wastewater reclamation technologies for agricultural applications. The work carried out has allowed to identify opportunities to integrate advanced oxidation processes into the existing water treatment systems.
Improvements have been also achieved in the area of the wastewater and energy nexus, by trialled an existing KPI benchmark toolkit across three European countries and by identifying the gaps to the energy-water nexus tools currently available to decarbonise the wastewater sector.
The results carried out in the area of wastewater governance have also shown innovative aspects, linked the methodology adopted for carrying out the research in the field of energy and governance. Researchers have used a method of inquiring that is unusual for legal studies: the spatialization of legal rules and organization.
The investments in innovative wastewater systems will have to be provided through either taxpayer’s money or water charges, depending on a country’s regulatory framework. ALICE has advanced the research in the area by exploring the use of revealed preferences and stated preferences methods to investigate society’s preferences, attitudes and willingness to pay for the attributes of innovative urban wastewater systems.
ALICE leaflet