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Advanced Biological Waste-to-Energy Technologies

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ABWET (Advanced Biological Waste-to-Energy Technologies)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The Advanced Biological Waste-to-Energy Technologies (ABWET) European Joint Doctorate (EJD) program provided education and research at PhD level on environmental technologies that convert waste materials into bioenergy, training Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) to work in multidisciplinary teams. The ABWET EJD focused on fundamental and applied aspects of different treatment technologies as well as the development of innovative recovery technologies with high market potential. This makes the ABWET PhD alumni attractive scientists and engineers for European universities and companies, able to contribute to the global challenges of waste management, energy scarcity and sustainable development.
The ABWET EJD developed a joint PhD education and research curriculum with joint selection, supervision and PhD defense procedures in order to issue a fully joint PhD degree in Environmental Technology, recognized by the academic boards of the four beneficiaries (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio - Italy, Université Paris-Est – France, UNESCO-IHE - The Netherlands and Tampere University of Technology – Finland).
ESRs made an Individual Training Plan (ITP), with a workload of 40 ECTS, comprising mandatory and elective PhD courses, an annual PhD meeting and summer school, conferences, courses on research, management and transferable skills as well as language training. All ESRs also made an individual career development plan in order to assist them in designing their career paths and preparing them for the labor market.
ESRs prepared a research plan in their PhD proposal, detailing research work (140 ECTS), including secondments to other beneficiaries and partner organizations (35-54 ECTS). The latter is an international network of 17 partner organizations from academia, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The PhD dissertation and defense were in English and ESRs were required to publish at least 3 papers in peer reviewed journals.
"• A joint admission procedure was set up
• A joint selection was carried out
• A joint supervision was established, defining a supervisory team for each ESR, which includes supervisors at the Institutions visited for secondments
• A joint governing structure was set up, with an ABWET Management Assembly (MA), including representatives of the 4 Beneficiaries, and a Supervisory Board (SB), including representatives of Beneficiaries and Partner Organizations. The MA is responsible for the joint management of the ABWET EJD and the SB is responsible for the scientific aspects
• Internal and external Quality Assurance was established
• Training of the ESRs through research was carried out on 4 sub-work packages: i) fermentation or anaerobic digestion of solid wastes and ii) wastewaters, iii) the use of side streams of anaerobic treatment processes and iv) biofuel clean-up
• The ABWET introductory course, 4 dedicated summer schools, 4 dedicated PhD courses and 2 dedicated conferences were carried out
• A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) on the delivery of a fully recognized and accredited ABWET joint doctorate degree was signed by the legal representatives of the 4 Beneficiaries
• All ESRs are awarded a fully accredited and recognized PhD joint degree in Environmental technology
The ABWET ESRs have publicly presented their research results during 2 dedicated conferences and 4 summer schools. All ABWET ESRs presented their results in other international conferences on their own topics. Dissemination of the activities has been and will be continuously implemented through:
• a program web-site (
• ResearchGate (
• LinkedIn (
• Twitter through the publication of posts from members of the MA and the involved institutions, using the hashtags #H2020 and #ABWET
• scientific publications of the 15 ABWET ESRs.
Regarding ResearchGate and LinkedIn, the ESRs are requested to contribute to these groups by advertising their activities (participation to conferences, reporting publications related to their own work).
The modern society needs an urgent shift to new engineered biotechnologies to achieve the millennium development goals and accomplish the energy transition from traditional fossil resources to sustainable alternatives. These technologies are aimed for the production of renewable energy and recovery of new resources from solid wastes and wastewater streams. Hence, a linear economy system, based on the “take-make-dispose” model, i.e. resources are “taken”, products are “made”, used and then “disposed” as waste, is no longer sustainable and should be entirely replaced by a new system of circular economy. This is based on the “take(reduced)-make-reuse&recycle” model, i.e. “reduced” resources are “taken” as products are “made” with mainly “reused&recycled” material, while energy is extracted from wastes as well. Science plays a critical role in making this possible by addressing the wide range of challenges that need to be overcome before a circular economy model can be widely adopted.
In this direction, novel research outcomes have been achieved during the implementation of the ABWET program in terms of:
• optimization of the anaerobic digestion (AD) process. Valuable work has especially been done on mathematical modelling, as a powerful tool to control the yield of the process, and on the valorization and clean-up of the AD products, i.e. digestate and biogas, for the recovery of nutrients (N, P and others), metals and energy as biomethane (CH4);
• production of bio-hydrogen (H2) via dark fermentation maximizing the hydrogen yields and production rates under mesophilic, thermophilic and hyperthermophilic conditions;
• reuse of toxic gases (e.g. H2S) and AD waste by-products (i.e. biogenic elemental sulfur) as electron donors to stimulate the biological removal of nitrate from wastewaters;
• algal growth and biorefinery through cultivation of microalgal species in digestates or through the supplementation of simulated CO2-containing biogas or flue gases;
• enrichment of a solventogenic anaerobic sludge converting carbon monoxide and syngas into acids and alcohols;
• anaerobic utilization of gas-phase methanol coupled to thiosulphate reduction and resource recovery through volatile fatty acids production;
• H2S removal and microbial community composition analysis in an anoxic biotrickling filter operated under autotrophic and mixotrophic conditions;
• exploitation of biochar for an efficient removal and recovery of resources, such as metals.

The program has contributed to train specialists in environmental technologies and circular economy, able to understand the life-cycle of waste to energy processes, think and work in a multidisciplinary way, and cooperate with people having different educational backgrounds. During the secondments, the ESRs gained different research methodologies and approaches on how to look at the problems with different scientific viewpoints. During the summer schools and conferences, the ESRs have learnt focusing on transferrable skills such as entrepreneurship, presentation and communication. A close cooperation between different research organizations and industry provided the ESRs networking abilities and good chances of finding future employment.