Water is an invaluable and essential resource for human life and for the environment, as well as an economic sector of growing importance for Europe. However, European water is under increasing pressure from the continuous growth in demand and from pollution derived from human activity. Moreover, fast emerging factors, such as the accelerating climate change, pose major challenges for water management across the EU.
In order to tackle these challenges several directives have been implemented within the European Union during the past decades, such as the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWTD, 91/271/EEC) or the more recent Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC), so as to manage and protect the European water heritage from any threat.
These directives require coordination of different EU policies and establish (amongst other things) the maximum level of pollutants allowed in wastewater discharged to natural water courses. Therefore most industries need to treat their wastewater residues prior to their discharge to the environment.
For industries generating vast amounts of wastewater, such as the food and beverage (F&B) industries, this management of their residues required to comply with the EU directives implies direct costs which can be very high. This is particularly critical for a subsector within the F&B industry devoted to the production of canned fish, meat processing, pickled vegetables, leather tanneries, aquaculture and all kind of brined products, as they generate saline wastewater.
This kind of wastewater, with high concentrations of biodegradable organic matter, suspended solids, nutrients (mainly nitrogen and phosphorus) and salt (concentrations up to 15%), is extremely difficult and expensive to treat, and its discharge represents a major threat to the environment e.g. salinity can cause eutrophication of water, and salinization and sodification of the soil. For SMEs within this subsector, which represents 5% of the total F&B industry (i.e. over 15,000 companies with a combined turnover of ~€63.7 billion), the treatment of their wastewater can represent up to 14% of their annual turnover (an estimated cost of ~€4.46 billion across the EC F&B sector).
To respond to the challenges above and in line with regulatory frameworks, policies and initiatives, the SaltGae initiative aims to establish a cross-sector cross-industry technological and innovation platform able to promote an efficient and cost-effective treatment of WW regardless of their different physico-chemical properties to benefit both the end-users (industries producing wastewater) and the sector as a whole (policy makers, environmental agendas, etc).
The SaltGae project will create positive impacts for European industry:
i) SaltGae Users: the solution will enable EU industry to significant reduce wastewater treatment costs and generate new revenue streams.
ii) Technology Supply Chain: the project will create a suite of technologies that may be further improved or applied to new applications (technology transfer).
iii) Algae Biomass Users: SaltGae EU users will become suppliers of algae biomass enabling downstream users to develop new product streams.