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Development of an innovative algae based tertiary wastewater treatment and value recovery system

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - INDALG (Development of an innovative algae based tertiary wastewater treatment and value recovery system)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-03-31

Industrial Phycology (I-PHYC) is an award-winning UK based SME focused on the development of a sustainable, chemical free solution for the treatment of process and wastewaters (WW) and the recovery of valuable materials they contain such as nutrients. I-PHYC is achieving this by applying cutting-edge technology that enables the use of microalgae as an industrial process to treat wastewater from agricultural, industrial and municipal sources.

Founded by experts in algae and wastewater technology, I-PHYC has developed links in the industry with partners such as Wessex Water and GENeco Sustainable Solutions. Since 2014, I-PHYC has won a range of awards recognising the importance of its technology including; the Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum (IBSF) Award for Innovation and Technology Development; the award for most disruptive technology at the Global TAG forum; UK company with the most commercial potential at the Pitch@Palace.

I-PHYC has developed its technology in response to EU legislation along with economic and corporate social responsibility targets. This pressure is due to the ever increasing volumes of WW being discharged to the environment every year, with municipal WW alone producing 330km3 every year (UNEP “economic valuation of wastewater”). These WWs contain nutrients (e.g. phosphorus and nitrogen) that lead to eutrophication and degradation of the environment and even contamination of the water table. At the same time, many of these problem materials are valuable resources of limited global supply. This includes phosphorus, a key ingredient for fertiliser production.

Legislation and other pressures are demanding that the quality of WW released to the environment be improved and that where possible valuable materials such as phosphorus are recovered in a recyclable form. Unfortunately, at present water industry has no real solution to this problem especially at smaller, isolated sites. This has left industry struggling with ever more costly and unsustainable chemical based techniques such as ferric flocculation or expensive processes such as membrane filtration, neither of which are regarded as a viable long term option.

Algae offer a solution to many of these problems. Algae are unicellular plants capable of taking up the material left at the end of the WW treatment process, along with carbon dioxide and using it to grow and divide. This strips the nutrients and other material from the WW, cleaning it in the process. The algae produced can then be separated out and valorised through various routes such as; fertiliser production; biogas; bioplastics; feed stock for green chemistry. However, because of the emphasis in recent years placed on the production of biofuels and high value chemical from algae, the technology has not been developed to enable algae to be used as an industrial process that meets the needs of WW producers.

I-PHYC with the support of the EU H2020 SME instrument is developing the technology to overcome this challenge and enable algae to be used as a treatment and value recovery solution by municipal producers. At the same time the support of the SME instrument is allowing I-PHYC to investigate the WW produced by other industries, to see how it can help them improve their sustainability and recover valuable materials.
"Since commencing the its project in October 2016 I-PHYC has carried out a range of work to support the development of its technology. Support from the H2020 has allowed I-PHYC to expand its team with several new experts, I-PHYC has used this experience along with its own to lay out a new design for its technology. I-PHYC has in turn been able to work with a top industry supplier to carry out detailed specification meetings on various areas of the build and begin the fabrication of this process which will be tested in the field with one of the UKs utilities.

At the same time the company has begun working with various industrial wastewater producers to see how it can help improve their processes and recover value. This has included the initial assessment of materials derived from; agriculture; aquaculture; municipal; food processing. I-PHYCs is planning to follow this up with the assessment of more complex materials and look at the potential value uses of the produced biomass.

I-PHYC has continued to generate interest from industry which has allowed it several opportunities to disseminate information on its work, along with promoting the benefits of working with the SME instrument. This has included invitations to give talks at the UK “BIG phosphorus” conference and the “European Waste Water Management Conference”, as well as around tables with the acting US ambassador and awards such as the “top 50 in 15” by the SetSquare group the global #1 ranked university business incubator.
Through the INDALG project I-PHYC has been able to engage with the major producers and their suppliers. This has allowed I-PHYC to better understand their challenges and where to target its process, giving them the biggest positive impact towards meeting their improved treatment goals laid out though legislation such as the EU urban wastewater framework. This has given I-PHYC much greater knowladge of its target market and allowed the company to talk with future partners and end-users. It has also helped I-PHYC identify how it can best use its technology to help improve the sustainability of wastewater treatment process and reduce its environmental impact and contribute to the circular economy. With 10s of 1000s of potential sites across the EU looking to improve their impact, I-PHYCs technology presents a significant opportunity to improve and preserve the environment, water supplies and recover and reuse valuable recovered materials.

The SME instrument support has also allowed I-PHYC to expand its team with several international experts. This has experience has been combined with the companies to produce a new design of its process using state of the art technology and methodology combined with water industry know-how. I-PHYC is fabricating this process with the support of one of the UKs top industry contractors, this will result in the production of one the most advanced algal processes ever produced and one of the largest in the EU and one that is specifically tailored for industrial use.
"I-PHYC Team at SetSquare ""Top 50 in 15"" event at the House of Commons"
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I-PHYC wins award from SetSquare cluster as one of the top 50 entrepreneurs in the last 15 years