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Towards a next generation of water systems and services for the circular economy.

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - NextGen (Towards a next generation of water systems and services for the circular economy.)

Reporting period: 2021-07-01 to 2022-11-30

The main objectives of NextGen were to develop and demonstrate novel technological, business and governance solutions for water in the circular economy (CE) in ten high-profile, large-scale, demonstration cases across Europe, and to develop the necessary approaches, tools and partnerships, to transfer and upscale. The CE transition driven by NextGen encompasses a wide range of water-embedded resources: water itself, energy, and materials (e.g. nutrients). We successfully demonstrated circular water solutions at our demo cases, and we revealed the conditions for uptake. Hence, NextGen challenged embedded thinking and practices in the water sector by embracing circular economy principles and technological innovation.
Our key messages:
1. NextGen unlocked the potential of the circular economy in the water sector, by demonstrating recovery and reuse of water-embedded resources in ten demo cases spread across different European regions in eight countries
2. NextGen demonstrated the benefits of circular water solutions in reducing water, energy and materials consumption, in preventing pollution to water ecosystems and the environment, and in providing added value of recovered resources to be used in other sectors to implement symbiotic approaches of the circular economy
3. NextGen provided evidence-based knowledge on enabling framework conditions for the transition to a circular economy in the water sector, including societal acceptability, circular value chains and business models, and supportive policy and regulations
4. NextGen has launched a Water Europe online match-making marketplace for products and services, that showcases circular water technologies, environmental and economic assessment tools, and best practices to implement circular economy solutions
5. NextGen informed relevant policy, suggesting that there is a clear need for better aligned EU directives that incentivise circularity, improve clarity and transparency for the implementation of the Water Reuse Regulation, and highlighted the need for dedicated end-of-waste criteria that simplify the process of less costly routes to market for recovered resources.
NextGen worked on ten demonstration sites providing evidence demonstrating the feasibility of innovative technological solutions. Through the demonstration cases, 26 circular water technologies have been implemented and tested. Our solutions demonstrated provided evidence that we can, technically, transform wastewater into valuable and high-quality products such as reclaimed water, energy (biogas and heat), and recovered materials (including nitrogen and phosphorous). We demonstrated how these products can act as alternative sources to cover a range of (non-potable) water demands, energy needs and the production of fertilisers.
Detailed assessments were carried out providing sound evidence of environmental and economic performance and clearly identifying risks and improvement options. Life Cycle Assessments demonstrated that CE concepts and technologies can lead to a lower environmental footprint of wastewater treatment, considering the value of recovered products and the substitution of conventional alternatives from the linear economy. Through quantitative microbial risk assessment of water reuse we demonstrated the potential for safe implementation of water reuse applications for almost all tested treatment configurations. Our economic assessments highlighted that within the given market and regulatory context small-size local circular solutions do have a higher specific treatment cost, and that the price of reuse water is not always competitive with the current local drinking water price. Overall few circular technologies are cost effective with regards to climate mitigation. Most nutrient recovery systems are not profitable at this stage, as the revenues from fertilisers are lower than the cost of the recovery. However, the cost effectiveness of the assessed technologies is expected to improve as they are further developed and reach market maturity.
NextGen argued that the transition to a circular water economy requires the active engagement from relevant stakeholders. We created an engaging environment and developed an innovative framework of systematic engagement activities. At the demo cases, the NextGen solutions have been consulted with a broad representation of stakeholder groups in Communities of Practices. Citizen engagement was effectively enhanced by our virtual visualisation platforms in which the public can experience circular water solutions: Augmented Reality app CirculAR and the NextGen Serious Game Toy Town.
Societal acceptance is of the utmost importance as the people are in effect the final end-users of water and its recovered resources. Contrary to the general belief, results from three large-scale surveys of the public in the UK, the Netherlands and Spain show that public support is high for the use of recycled water for drinking and for the use of recovered nutrients to grow food.
Moving from a linear to a circular economy entails a shift from a financial cost-benefit approach to a business model based on circular value chains. A circular business canvas has been established and 23 circular value chains have been identified. For selected circular solutions, a market assessment and business plans have been developed. But we also took a step further towards exploitation: we launched three spin-offs to fully pursue the potential of several of our solutions in the real world.
NextGen developed the Water Europe Marketplace for a circular economy, a flexible platform that supports the market uptake of circular technology innovations. It connects problem owners and solution providers in an online open access platform. NextGen results are available in the CE Marketplace in the Technology Evidence Base (factsheets and demo cases results) and Toolkit (products and assessment tools).
We recommended potential adaptation of policy and regulatory frameworks within the scope of EU legislation, highlighting the need for an improvement of clarity for the Water Reuse Regulation and a better alignment between directives and incentivise circularity. We recommended the creation of simpler, and less costly routes to market for recovered resources.
Ultimately, to support the EU wide uptake of circular water solutions, a comprehensive ‘package’ of enabling instruments at short-term is required, consisting of technological, economic, socio-cultural and regulatory measures.
NextGen quantified impact
NextGen key messages
NextGen key messages
Project participants NextGen at the kick-off meeting