Technological Centre

H2020 NICE: Nature-based Solutions for the creation of a circular urban water cycle

CETIM is leading the initiative and we are working on the analysis of new absorbent materials and the implementation of mixed-culture microorganisms in real wetlands to degrade emerging pollutants present in the urban water cycle.

NICE: Innovative and enhanced Nature-based Solutions for a sustainable urban water cycle.

According to the latest weather report from the State Meteorological Agency, this summer has been the third warmest in Spain since data began to be collected in 1961. Nine of the ten hottest years in our country have been recorded in this century. This increase in temperatures, coupled with the lack of rainfall, has led to a state of water scarcity, an essential resource for life on Earth. How can we conserve water and cope with drought seasons?

H2020 NICE develops, designs, and implements different Nature-based Solutions to solve the problems associated with the urban water cycle, extending its availability. But what are Nature-based Solutions?

The European Commission defines Nature-based Solutions (NbS) as “solutions inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, provide simultaneous environmental, social, and economic benefits, and help build resilience.” In other words, they are actions or processes that use nature’s own principles to remedy problems related to territorial and urban management, such as climate change, resource management, water, food security, air quality, and the environment, while protecting biodiversity, natural spaces, and improving human health. Some examples of NbS are the construction of draining pavements, vertical gardens and roofs, urban gardens, reforestation, etc.

H2020 NICE: From the lab to real urban settings

The overall objective of H2020 NICE is to increase the availability of innovative Nature-based Solutions to contribute to water circularity in urban areas. To achieve this goal, the project will design and implement Nature-based Solutions (NbS) such as vertical gardens, rain gardens, or wetlands. These NbS will collect and treat black, grey, and run-off wastewater for subsequent reuse, as well as improve the water quality of urban rivers.

Moreover, all the research conducted in the project will transition from the laboratory to real urban environments in an ambitious plan. This plan includes establishing a network of real urban laboratories in 11 cities across 5 European countries (Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, and Poland) and 2 international ones (Colombia and Egypt). Additionally, seven partner cities worldwide will collaborate in the Cities Committee. The installation of urban laboratories in these locations will enable real comparisons of different issues based on the climate and ecosystem of each region.

Map of the Real Urban Laboratories Network to be developed in the project.

To carry it out, NICE has an international consortium led by CETIM and formed by the following partners: AQUALIA, ICLEI European Secretariat, Politechnika Gdanska, Aarhus University, INRAE, EcoBIRD, Politecnico di Torino, IRIDRA, Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, LISODE, Gate2Growth Aps, Aguas y Aguas de Pereira, and Desert Research Centre.

Last month, all the consortium members traveled to Talavera de la Reina (Toledo) to learn about the project’s progress and establish the next steps. The wastewater treatment plant, managed by AQUALIA, is located there, and a pilot plant is being built to implement the technologies developed at NICE, which we also had the opportunity to visit.

Construction of a pilot for NICE at the Talavera de la Reina (Toledo) WWTP.

CETIM’s Contribution to NICE

More specifically, our Technological Centre is conducting research on the elimination of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and herbicides, to enhance the efficiency and development of Nature-based Solutions in water treatment. In pursuit of this goal, various natural reactive materials, such as biochar or coconut fiber, have been analyzed. These materials have demonstrated the capability to eliminate more than 90% of the emerging pollutants typically present in wastewater.

Additionally, at CETIM, we are studying the capacity of certain microorganisms from real wetlands to degrade emerging pollutants present in water at a laboratory scale. The elimination of this type of pollutants through the studied processes will result in a significant reduction in environmental impact while lowering the costs of water treatment processes and technologies.

In this regard, the solutions developed at NICE will enable the reuse of water. For example, through systems for the reuse of greywater from homes, which can be used to recharge cisterns, for irrigation, or for flushing after an on-site treatment process. These solutions will also contribute to pollution mitigation by managing rainwater in cities with combined drains, aiding in flood control. Furthermore, they will play a role in improving cities by incorporating and promoting green elements in the urban landscape. This will alleviate pressure on aquatic ecosystems and water as a resource, enhance the quality and quantity of available water, and reduce the effects of climate change.

NICE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 101003765.