Technological Centre

LIFE ULISES achieves complete wastewater reclamation

The project in which we have taken part together with Aqualia has aimed to develop technologies that improve the efficiency of resources in WWTPs, minimising energy consumption and reusing nutrients and water.

According to data published by the European Environment Agency, 90% of urban wastewater is collected and treated according to EU standards. However, wastewater treatment plants are one of the largest consumers of energy.

In order to reduce this problem and contribute to a climate-neutral Europe in 2050, the LIFE ULISES project was born, in which we took part together with the consortium leader Aqualia and the partners EnergyLab and CIESOL, a research centre of the University of Almeria. With co-funding from the European Commission under the LIFE Programme, the project aimed to improve wastewater treatment plants through innovative low-cost technologies to increase energy efficiency and achieve complete regeneration of water and recovery of water resources.

Enzymatic hydrolysis plant developed by CETIM Technological Centre.

Main keys

The LIFE ULISES research, which came to an end last month, has been looking for a comprehensive solution to improve resource efficiency in the water sector, minimising energy consumption and promoting the safe reuse of nutrients and water. The main keys to the project have been:

  1. Obtaining biomethane through an innovative process that increases biogas production and allows it to be used as a fuel for the transport sector.
  2. Improving the efficiency of fertiliser production from sludge through two new treatment processes: enzymatic hydrolysis and membrane-based struvite precipitation.
  3. Water reuse, eliminating emerging pollutants and pathogens, applying tertiary treatment based on solar energy.

LIFE ULISES technologies installed at the El Bobar WWTP in Almeria.

With the integration of the different technologies developed or improved throughout the project, in a large-scale demonstration plant that has been validated at the El Bobar WWTP in Almeria, operated by the project leader Aqualia, LIFE ULISES has managed to demonstrate that it is possible to improve the efficiency of the wastewater treatment process, by integrating biofuel production with energy-efficient technologies and implementing solutions that allow for improved sludge management, one of the most energy-intensive and costly aspects of wastewater treatment processes. At the same time, demonstrating a circular economy concept, the project has managed to produce and field test valuable fertilisers and reclaimed water, transforming the WWTP into a model urban biorefinery.

Results obtained by CETIM in its research

From CETIM, given our extensive experience in water reuse, recovery of value-added compounds from wastewater for its valorisation, and production of biofertilisers from waste, in LIFE ULISES we developed, designed and validated two pilot plants for the recovery of nutrients and high quality water for its reuse, as well as to obtain biofertilisers. All this, from sludge and wastewater from WWTPs. The first of these has been the enzymatic hydrolysis plant for dehydrated biosolids, which has enabled us to obtain a type of biofertiliser with biostimulant properties for plant growth.

The second plant developed was for the precipitation of struvite and recovery of centrifuge water obtained after dehydration. The use of membranes in this line of research has made it possible to obtain biofertilisers, such as struvite, with a high level of purity and high-value nutrients such as phosphorus, among others. Furthermore, with this pilot plant, the treated water obtained after the direct osmosis and membrane distillation process was of high quality, complying with the water reuse standards according to Regulation (EU) 2020/741 and Regulation (Spain) RD 1620/2007 on the minimum requirements for the reuse of treated water for agricultural irrigation.

Samples of beetroot grown with the biofertilisers obtained in the project.

In short, the promising results obtained by CETIM in the LIFE ULISES project ensure the reuse of water and the complete regeneration of this resource in water treatment plants, obtaining high added value products such as nutrients and biofertilisers. Thanks to these processes, greenhouse gas emissions have also been reduced by almost 100%, thus meeting all the climate and energy targets set by the European Union for 2030.

More information:

With the contribution of the financial instrument LIFE of the European Union | LIFE18 ENV/ES/000165