Industrial food and drink production generates a lot of polluting wastewater. The EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive has set strict regulations for the quality of wastewater discharged by these industries. But, treating wastewater is expensive. Furthermore, the smaller a company is, the more expensive it is for it to treat a unit of wastewater. And in Europe, more than 99 % of food and drink companies are SMEs. Anaerobic digestion involves a series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. It is an environmentally friendly and efficient solution, but the anaerobic reactors that are currently available are limited and costly to purchase and run. The EU-funded PHASEPLIT (Two-phase acid/gas anaerobic reactor for industrial wastewater of food & drink SME industries) initiative brought together scientists from the commercial and research sectors to develop a decentralised, anaerobic wastewater reactor customised for SMEs. Anaerobic digestion presents advantages compared to traditional aerobic treatment as it generates biogas that can be transformed on-site into electricity and heat. The scientists of PHASEPLIT addressed the limitations of these reactors for use in SMEs. The new technology they developed is based on a two-phase anaerobic process. First, bacteria break down sugars and amino acids, following which bacteria convert the products into methane and carbon dioxide. By generating biogas, the PHASEPLIT solution covers its own energy consumption and generates a surplus of renewable energy for the plant to use in other processes. It is also affordable for SMEs. This novel technology will allow SMEs to comply with EU regulations and will reduce organic pollution in fresh water. PHASEPLIT outcomes are also expected to contribute to the European objective of 20 % renewable energy by 2020. This technology will also have potential application for wastewater treatment in other industries, such as chemical, pharmaceutical and textile industries.
Wastewater, wastewater reactor, food and drink, SMEs, anaerobic digestion, PHASEPLIT