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Sustainable cleaning agent and organic fertilizer recovery from sewage sludge

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - reNEW (Sustainable cleaning agent and organic fertilizer recovery from sewage sludge)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2019-10-31

Wastewater sludge production is continuously increasing world-wide due to urbanisation and population growth. To solve this problem, incineration is the most preferred solution in many developed countries. Beside its relatively high costs, the main drawback of this method is that the valuable compounds found in the sludge are incinerated and lost. Another widely used solution in large scale is the digestion of sewage sludge for biogas production. These digesters are often not economically sustainable in case of small and medium sized waste water treatment plants. Thus, for most of our clients, small and medium sized wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) in Europe, the treatment of sewage sludge represents one of the biggest problems.
The overall objective of the reNEW project is to commercialize products recovered from sewage sludge through our innovative technology. In our process, the sewage sludge is biologically transformed into a liquid phase which contains volatile fatty acids (VFA) and valuable micro and macro nutrients (NPK), which are recovered. These products represent important market value: VFA as raw material for eco-labelled cleaning agents, and NPK as fertilizer. The aim of this project is the exploitation of the reNEW process, to roll-out the technology all over Europe, enabling the growth of our companies. More specifically, we aim to scale up our process to an industrial level, develop commercialization strategies for both valuable products: eco-friendly cleaner (based on VFA) and fertilisers (NPK). Our target is to create a techno-economic framework in which the return on investment for the reNEW process installation would be less than 3 years.
The project started in November 2017 and finished in October 2019. We designed and built the upscaled technology and transported it to a municipal wastewater treatment plant. All parts of the technology were tested, all necessary permits and insurances for operations were acquired. In addition, we completed product permitting with relevant authorities. We carried out successful field test validation in an operational environment.
At the same time, we studied extensively the market for both of our products as well as the competitive sludge treatment technologies. We identified the market segments for the two products, the NPK fertilizer and the VFA based cleaning agents, respectively. We developed a commercialisation strategy. Our market research showed that circularity and sustainability is the most important factors for the environmental conscious customers. We branded our VFA based cleaning products as CYCLE for B2C and CYCLEAN for the B2B market. Successful commercial trials were carried out for CYCLE at DM retail stores in Hungary and at Amazon on-line in the UK. These successful actions confirmed our business concept and proved the market viability of the products.
The main novelty of the technology is that instead of focusing on compost and biogas generation from sewage sludge, we have taken the path of extracting and recovering the valuable nutrients and volatile fatty acids, mainly acetic acid. Existing solutions for sewage sludge are focusing on exploiting the calorific values or organic matter, in many cases (e.g. incineration, landfilling) the most value within the sludge is lost. According to our knowledge there are no technologies available commercially, that extract the valuable components from sewage sludge, while neutralising its toxicity. Our solution is unique recovering valuable compounds (VFA, NPK) from sludge. Main added novelties of the proposed reNEW solution:
• Exploitation of high value products from sewage sludge (NPK and VFA)
• Hygienic products
• Economically and environmentally sustainable method for the processing of sewage sludge by creating a product cycle
ReNEW technology will contribute immensely to the circular economy, as it valorises undesired, dangerous waste products of wastewater treatment. Moreover, it has zero carbon footprint on the environment. Our vision is that cities that produce the wastewater can get everything back treated, cleaned in form of products that can be recovered over and over again.