Technological Centre

UMI AQUATIM will optimise the management of the integrated water cycle and recover high-value resources

In the project we are leading at CETIM, we are developing with AQUALIA, disruptive technologies for the recovery of high-quality water and energy sources, such as hydrogen and biogas

UMI AQUATIM: Sustainable future through a circular, efficient, safe and resilient water cycle.

In recent years, drought and shortages of essential resources such as water and energy have become a cause for concern for global society. This scarcity of products, such as natural gas, has led to an unstoppable rise in the price of energy, breaking historical records every day. For this reason, at CETIM, we consider the implementation of a circular, efficient, safe, and resilient water cycle to be vitally important.

To achieve this goal, we have partnered with AQUALIA, the European leader in integrated water cycle management. This collaboration has given rise to the AQUATIM Joint Research Unit, whose objective is to address the current challenges of society through the study and implementation of new technologies across the entire water cycle. Innovation is at the forefront, and we are developing new circular models reinforced by digitalisation.

In this initiative, there is an exploration of new sources of green energy, such as hydrogen or biogas, on one hand, contributing to the reduction of the environmental impact of the water cycle. On the other hand, the initiative seeks new natural resources and solutions for their efficient use, including water regeneration. As Javier García Linares, Aqualia’s director in Galicia, explained in an interview with CETIM: ‘We can achieve self-sufficiency and eliminate the sector’s carbon footprint by integrating bioenergy and other renewable sources such as turbines or solar panels, along with intelligent management of the water-energy relationship.

Additionally, AQUATIM envisions the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity through nature-based solutions, the development of new digital technologies, and the introduction of improvement actions to ensure the quality of water bodies.

CETIM’s contribution to AQUATIM’s lines of research

The work carried out over the last two years at CETIM for UMI AQUATIM has facilitated progress towards the objectives outlined in the project. Let’s examine the advancements made in each of the six lines of research:

1. Green hydrogen from water as a key element towards decarbonisation. Initially, potential waste materials suitable for the dark fermentation process have been identified, characterized, and selected. This technique involves obtaining biohydrogen from organic waste in the absence of light and through the combined action of anaerobic bacteria. Batch tests have been conducted using the selected waste, along with various co-digestion mixtures with sludge from wastewater treatment plants, to identify mixtures with synergistic effects. Additionally, the key operational parameters of other technologies, such as microbial electrolysis and electrolysis, have been investigated.

Batch test of hydrogen production in a thermostatic bath.

2. Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems for efficient water cycle management and climate change adaptation: For the retention of pollutants, the capacity of adsorbents from Galician by-products and waste (oyster shell and chicken droppings biochar) has been studied for the removal of heavy metals and nitrates and their future implementation in NBS.

3. Circular water economy for sustainable resource efficiency: Other types of natural adsorbent materials (zeolite and coconut fibre) with the capacity to recover nutrients present in wastewater have been studied. The application of membrane technologies, such as ultrafiltration for nutrient recovery in wastewater treatment, has also been investigated. Finally, a study has been conducted on the key parameters of electrodeposition for the recovery of high-value metals from wastewater.

4. Quality of water bodies to ensure their safe use and the protection of ecosystems: Water quality has been assessed concerning the presence of microplastics, emerging pollutants, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in wastewater from various treatment plants, drinking water treatment plants, and natural waters (rivers).

5. Digitalisation of the integral water cycle through the development of blockchain to improve traceability and water management: A blockchain system has been developed for materials control. Additionally, a preliminary design of a sensor for the determination of emerging pollutants has been created.

Finally, the integration and validation of the technologies will be accomplished through the design, construction, and validation of pilot plants. This will mark the last piece of the puzzle to complete UMI AQUATIM, a project aimed at ensuring the modernisation of the water sector and enhancing environmental sustainability through resource efficiency, thereby improving the energy sector and its associated costs. In this manner, new tools will be created to enhance the quality of life for citizens and mitigate the effects of climate change.