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Safe and efficient treatment and reuse of wastewater in agricultural production schemes

Final Report Summary - TREAT&USE (Safe and efficient treatment and reuse of wastewater in agricultural production schemes)

Executive Summary:
In the last years, the re-use of “reclaimed water” (i.e. treated waste water fulfilling the requirements for a specific use) has increased as alternative water resource for agriculture in Europe. In this sense, the Urban Waste Water Directive (Directive 91/271/EEC) states that waste water should be re-used wherever appropriate (Article 12). Re-use of reclaimed water has an extraordinary potential in ensuring water sustainability since it combines water supply (it reduces the net demand on fresh water) and water pollution control aspects (it reduces the volume of waste water discharged into the environment). Likewise, reclaimed water is a strategic resource of particular value in water stressed areas providing a constant source of water which is not as dependant on climate parameters as fresh water.
The importance of reclaimed re-use has been also acknowledged by the European Commission through the support of numerous research projects. In this sense, a group of European scientists, engineers and technicians are developing an innovative system to re-use reclaimed water for irrigation in Southern Spain. This initiative is framed under the European Commission funded project called TREAT&USE and is coordinated by the Spanish SME, BIOAZUL. TREAT&USE project also counts with the participation of 6 other European organizations: TTZ-Bremerhaven, HYDRO-AIR, ISITEC, PESSL, Soil Moisture Sense, and GUADECOL.
The main objective of TREAT&USE project is the construction of a pre-commercial prototype which combines water treatment with membranes and an adapted irrigation system so that the overall process is completely automated and operation and maintenance requirements are minimum. TREAT&USE system comprises 4 individual modules: i) water treatment module, ii) mixing station, iii) fertigation module, and iv) control and monitoring module. A membrane Bioreactor (MBR) has been designed for the water treatment module in a way that plant nutrients contained in waste water (mainly Nitrogen and Phosphorus) are maintained after the treatment while pathogens are killed. The mixing station will mix the appropriate proportion of fresh water and the treated waste water coming from the MBR and feed the fertigation module. To achieve this, the level of nutrient content in the soil is detected by sensors and this information is sent by remote control to the control and monitoring unit which will translate the signals received into specific orders to the valves of the mixing unit.
Main innovation to be brought by TREAT&USE project is the development of a single compact system with the characteristics described above, which is easy and direct to use by end-users (e.g. farmers). The system will be able to identify the necessities of nutrients in the soil through sensors and adapt the dose of treated waste water according to those necessities in real time. Thus, there is one single system able to treat waste water from a community and irrigate with the adequate proportions of nutrients an agriculture field providing both water and nutrients as well as avoiding the contamination of the soil or ground water.
TREAT&USE system is intended to be an effective solution to control and mitigate emerging risks posed by chemical contaminants and pathogens in reclaimed water used for agriculture. The system is designed for the use of individual farmers or farmers associations and its compact design makes it very appropriate for small agglomerations such as rural areas. Nevertheless TREAT&USE system can be also used in urban areas where centralized treatment of the waste water is performed. In these cases, treated waste water can be transported from the centralized treatment plant to the agriculture field where TREAT&USE system will provide an additional treatment to the waste water in order to fulfil the stringent legal standards required for reclaimed re-use in agriculture.

Project Context and Objectives:
Overview of the project objectives:

The development of TREAT&USE project activities has led to the achievement of all the general objectives defined in the Description of Work (DoW):
- Uptake of PURATREAT and WACOSYS results and develop a precommercial treatment and reuse prototype for direct market application in agriculture
- Provide a safe, technological solution for reusing wastewater in agricultural production
- Taping the huge potential of wastewater resources in water scarce regions in the Mediterranean region for fertigation (irrigation and fertilization) purposes
- Development of an approach which allows 100% reuse of wastewater and a 70% recovery of nutrients
- Regarding specific objectives (i.e. scientific, technical, environmental, and socio-economic) the project achieved:

Scientific and technological objectives:
- Development and test of a pre-commercial prototype for 30 m3/day for treating and applying wastewater in agricultural production (safe, low-cost and low-energy input)
- Adaptation of a suitable control and measurement device
- Assessment of potential benefits and risks of the prototype for the environment and human health
- Reduce the energy consumption for MBR-treatment to a value of 1 kWh/m3

Socio-economic objectives:
- Evaluate the eco-efficiency and overall performance of the approach and the prototypes
- Irrigating and fertilizing crop in the Mediterranean region under market conditions (cost-benefit analysis for SMEs and farmers)
- Enable safe and beneficial agricultural production in waster scarce regions (income opportunities)

Environmental objectives:
- Support the implementation of related European legislation, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Drinking water Directive (1998) or the Directive on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances (2006) by providing technologies for ensuring the agreed targets
- Apply the goals of the Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP) (EC 2004), by helping to decouple industrial development from environmental impacts
- Safe and cost efficient reuse of wastewater and nutrients
- Wastewater treatment and reuse to ease the pressure on water resources and protect them from pollution
- Reduction of water and fertilizer consumption by efficient waste water management
- Determine the necessary actions to be undertaken for a wider implementation in rural areas.
- Testing the overall performance of the TREAT&USE system over long period and constantly optimizing it.
- Collecting all the produced data for validation.

Project Results:
During the first period of the project the main result achieved is to have built a prototype which is properly functioning and fulfil the objectives established at the beginning of the project. The prototype permits the treatment of municipal waste water and its direct use in agriculture. Thus, waste water treatment and re-use are carried out at the same place avoiding transport costs from waste water treatment plant. The analysis performed show that both treated water used in irrigation and the fruits irrigated (i.e. tomatoes) fulfil legal standards.
During the second and last period, the evaluation and assessment performed permitted an optimization of the system, going further in the automation process and improving the irrigation patterns according to the characteristics of reclaimed water. The second demonstration phase permitted to fine tune the prototype in order to increase the competitiveness of the system and overcome the main challenges (e.g. O&M costs, automation, user-friendly interface, etc.)
In summary, TREAT&USE consortium expects that the project results in a line of products that satisfies end users needs and challenges. In particular, the project aims to end up with a system fulfilling the following characteristics:
- Energy consumption of water treatment of 1 approximately kWh/m3
- Able to treat 30m3/day of waste water
- Compact system
- High automation
- No need of additional fertilizers for reclaimed water used in irrigation
- Competitive price of the technology
- Effluent free of pathogens and rich in nutrients

Potential Impact:
TREAT&USE system offers the possibility of using an alternative source of water in agriculture, the so called “reclaimed water” (i.e. treated waste water fulfilling legal standards for an intended use). This is of special importance in countries suffering from water scarcity such as Spain and other countries of Southern Europe (e.g. Greece, Italy, Portugal). Most of these countries are also intensive agriculture producers and this activity, as highly water consumer, is posing risks on the sustainability of fresh water bodies.
For the SMEs participating in TREAT&USE, it is expected to increase the number of clients by opening new markets and penetrating in countries where the consortium is not yet active. Dissemination and exploitation of the project results shall enable potential customers to get to know about TREAT&USE technology. Likewise, market and cost-benefit analysis helps the consortium to define a marketing strategy for the future commercialization of TREAT&USE system.
Besides the benefits gained by the participating SMEs described above, the widespread use of TREAT&USE system contributes to improve the following aspects:
- “Reclaimed water” provides a constant source of water: This contributes to water sovereignty of farmers in rural areas suffering from water scarcity. The combination of reclaimed water for irrigation with other conventional sources (e.g. groundwater) can avoid that farmers suffer from water cuts and the consequent losses in production.
- Sustainable water management: The use of reclaimed water for irrigation implies less stress on fresh water resources (e.g. aquifers).
- Less contamination of water bodies: Economic incentives to treat waste water can boost the interest on appropriate treatment and therefore reduce inadequate waste water discharge.
- Less use of chemical fertilizers: Reclaimed water has nutrients which are directly taken by plants. Therefore less chemical fertilizers are needed. This implies a reduction in the carbon footprint since emissions of carbon dioxide produced by production, package and transport of chemical fertilizers would be avoided.
- No need to transport waste water. This implies a reduction in the carbon footprint since the use of vehicles to transport waste water would be avoided.
-Employment and rural development: TREAT&USE will push the modernisation of agricultural technology and will create qualified employment, not only for the construction of the systems but also for maintenance and operation.

List of Websites:
Project web site:

Contact details:
BIOAZUL (Coordinator):
Rafael Casielles (
Antonia Lorenzo (
Stefan Scholz (
Thomas Hanken (
Gottfried Pessl (
Peter White (
Mirko Hänel (
Margarita Jimenez (