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Current Research Projects

WOW! - Wider business Opportunities for raw materials from Waste water

There are market opportunities for raw materials from sewage, but for this the sewage treatment plants and the industry need alignment. This calls for a transition: sewage treatment plants need to switch from treating sewage to producing valuable materials. On the other hand, market parties need to regard sewage as a valuable source instead of ‘dirty unsafe water’. Last but not least, the policies should better fit this new circular practice. To realize these opportunities the consortium aims to develop value chains for three different raw materials from sewage: cellulose, PHA bioplastics and lipids.

The following activities will be part of the project:

  • Identify high potential value chains for raw materials from sewage.
  • Develop a Decision Support Tool that guides sewage treatment plants in their transition towards a circular approach on sewage.
  • Build and run three WOW! pilots to optimize and implement innovative recovery and upcycling techniques.
  • Create bioproducts made out of sewage, such as bioplastics, biofuel and bio-char.
  • Create national policy action plans and an EU policy roadmap.

During this project Technische Universität Kaiserslautern will start with lab scale experiments for bioplastics (PHA) production. The first experiments aim to develop process control strategies for later pilot scale application. Based on these results a pilot plant will be set up on the sewage treatment plant Buchenhofen in Wuppertal. The pilot plant will be run for at least on year to develop strategies for a stable process under realistic conditions and to influence the bioplastic properties in order to meet market demand. PHA enriched in bacteria will be extracted by project partners and compounded.

Project duration: 03/2018- 09/2021

Persons in charge: Thomas Uhrig M.Sc., Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: Interreg North-West Europa program, www.nweurope.eu

Project Reinighof - Development and testing of a self-sufficient resource recovery and wastewater disposal system for rural areas

The aim of the project Reinighof is to create and test a self-sufficient, decentralised wastewater treatment and resource recovery concept that meets the requirements of a sustainable urban water management. The key points are the installation of dry separation toilets, which on the one hand leads to considerable savings of drinking water and on the other hand through adapted treatment measures of urine and faeces which make a recovery of raw materials, especially phosphorus, possible. The aim is to demonstrate complete self-sufficiency from a central wastewater treatment plant and to create a marketable concept with its process engineering components.

For the urine treatment and the recovery of nutrients is a magnesium-ammonium-phosphate (MAP) precipitation planned. This allows to recover P almost completely, but N only to a small extent so that the nitrogen-containing supernatant must be further processed. Direct introduction of this material flow into a constructed wetland (CW) for grey water treatment can lead to problems due to the high ammonium concentrations. Therefore, it is planned to channel the nitrogen-containing supernatant into a new special soil filter with zeolite-containing filter material, which is connected upstream of the CW, and in which the ammonium contained is adsorbed and partially converted. For the faeces, closed rapid composting with subsequent open post-composting is provided, whereby hygienisation is to be achieved so that the compost can be used as soil improver and nutrient supplier on the property of the owners. Seepage water can be fed to the CW.

With skilful linking of the different treatment components this concept offers the possibility to be able to renounce a centralized "back-up" system.

Project duration: 03/2018 -02/2020

Persons in charge: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: German Federal Environmental Foundation, Osnabrück

Biopolymer production from industrial wastewater streams - Influencing factors on sub-processes and development of measurement and control strategies for a closed process chain

Today, conventional plastics are mainly produced from crude oil, whose availability is limited and its production is not sustainable. The lack of significant resources in Europe and Germany also leads to considerable political dependencies. In addition to the finite nature, the climate-damaging nature and the polluting production of the raw material crude oil, the high resistance of plastics to natural decomposition processes (chemical/physical or biological decomposition) represents a considerable environmental problem and leads to an increasing accumulation of discarded plastic materials in the environment. To reduce these problems, it is necessary to develop new, environmentally friendly and resource-conserving production processes that replace crude oil with sustainably extracted raw materials. Initial research results in highly simplified systems show that both primary sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants and wastewater with a high organic content can be such an alternative source of raw materials. At present, however, there are still considerable gaps in knowledge, both in basic process understanding and in the development of a coordinated process chain and process control.

The overarching goal of this project is therefore the further development of a process chain for biopolymer production from wastewater streams in the food industry. The project should make a substantial contribution to improving the understanding of the process and the factors influencing the individual steps of biopolymer production from wastewater. Building on this, the process chain will be successively closed in order to be able to evaluate the effects of different general conditions and operating settings on the biopolymer yield and composition. By developing C&I strategies, a permanently stable operation is to be achieved even with fluctuating wastewater composition.

Project duration: 01/2018 - 06/2020

Persons in charge: Thomas Uhrig M.Sc., Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: Willy-Hager Foundation, Stuttgart

Real Lab »Wastewater-free Environmental Campus Birkenfeld - New Technologies in Building Refurbishment for a Sustainable Resource Management«

The project »Wastewater-free Environmental Campus Birkenfeld - New Technologies in Building Refurbishment for a Sustainable Resource Management«, funded by the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR), addresses an innovative recycling concept at the Environmental Campus Birkenfeld (UCB) in Germany. The concept is founded on the on-site separation, treatment and use of wastewater streams and kitchen waste within the refurbishment of a student dormitory building into a real lab. The model building disposes of 36 apartments including 22 toilet units and 19 kitchen units. For the first time, the so-called double inliner system, which has been developed at the Bauhaus Universität Weimar for the separate collection of greywater and blackwater at household level, is to be integrated into the existing building infrastructure. By the use of a vacuum system, blackwater – together with kitchen waste – will be transported to an anaerobic treatment for biogas production, whereas greywater will be diverted by gravity and treated for different uses (irrigation, toilet flushing etc.). This pioneering approach in applied building research provides the basis for further transforming the UCB into a wastewater-free university campus.

In order to develop new practicable concepts for an optimal collection, treatment and use of the resources water, nutrients and energy (contained in the greywater, blackwater and biowaste), several lab analyses and investigations will be carried out within the scope of the planned real laboratory. Subsequently, an integrated concept for the UCB project site regarding the collection and treatment of wastewater streams as well as the use of the resources contained therein will be developed and implemented to some extent, considering financial, ecological and social concerns.

The system innovation proposed for the UCB represents the technological foundation for the longer-term future of a resource-oriented wastewater management. The combination of innovative processes in building refurbishment and new techniques for resource recovery is unique and represents the transformation of a purely supply- and disposal-oriented into a closed-loop resource-oriented material flow management.

Project duration: 10/2017 -10/2019

Persons in charge: Dipl.-Ing. Carlo Morandi, M. Sc., Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: BBSR (German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development) 

INTERESS-I »Integrated Strategies to Strengthen Urban Blue-Green Infrastructures «

In the definition phase, the project INTERESS-I »Integrated Strategies for Strengthening Urban Blue-Green Infrastructures«, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, determines suitable pilot areas and addresses elementary questions that are required for the development of strategies for strengthening blue-green infrastructures in densely urbanized cities.   

The background hereto is an increasing amount of climate extremes, from heavy rainfall and flooding events to prolonged periods of heat and drought. The planned project works out technically practicable solutions, concepts and measures for enhancing urban blue-green settlement and building structures, based on climatic requirements, water availability and quality as well as the concerns of open space planning. In order to increase the climate resilience of urban districts, systems are required for capping discharge peaks in the event of heavy rainfall, as are solutions to prevent flooding in inner-city zones. Furthermore, a significant increase in urban evaporation and cooling capacity is also necessary, which can only be achieved by extensively increasing inner-city green areas, wherefore an increased demand for irrigation water is due; several urban water resources must be thus made accessible, correspondingly treated and reused, e.g. drains from drinking water-driven wells, spring catchments, groundwater leaks, domestic greywater etc.

In the definition phase, existing approaches within the contributing municipalities of Stuttgart and Frankfurt are to be worked out and expectations for integrated strategies to be discussed. In the planned R&D project, concrete strategies and concepts will be developed for strengthening existing blue and green infrastructures for selected inner-city districts under changing urban climatic conditions. Moreover, blue and green technical components, e.g. constructed wetlands for the treatment of urban water resources, vertical green systems and living plant constructions, are to be investigated in practice and subsequently demonstrated as a compact prototype implementation of climate-resilient infrastructure.

The Department for Resource-Efficient Wastewater Technology at the University of Kaiserslautern addresses particularly the (further) development of concepts and technologies for a demand-oriented treatment of urban water resources as well as adaptation possibilities regarding urban, climatic and green requirements (e. g. spatial constraints, water and nutrient requirements) under consideration of resource efficiency and climate resilience. 

Project duration: 03/2017 -08/2019

Expected project start: 09/2018

Persons in charge: Dipl.-Ing. Carlo Morandi, M. Sc., Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: BMBF (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research)

Studies on the elimination of micropollutants from water and wastewater using biomembrane processes as well as their comparison with other biologically supported processes

The aim of this project is to investigate the elimination and mineralization of so-called micro-contamination in industrial / municipal wastewater by biodegradation processes in innovative process concepts. Phase I of the project focuses on the production of bacterial isolates / biocenoses that are suitable for the degradation of defined microcontaminants. After the sucsessful execution of Phase I, Phase II will emphasise on the research work of biomembrane processes with purposefully immobilisation of specialized biocenoses cultivated in Phase I on the membrane carriers and their utilization for treatment of the named wastewater. In this stage, alternative biological processes on laboratory and semi-technical scalewill be operated and used for comparison and purpose of valuation.

The output of the project will be a developed concept, which leads to a large-scale technical implementation of processes concerning the treatment of municipal/ industrial wastewater. The aim of the project is to compare different biological processes in terms of their efficiency in the elimination of trace contaminants. The key compounds which will be used are Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Diclofenac, Triclosan and Fluoxetine. Unlike similar projects, the focus is on the biological degradation of these contaminants and not its pure adsorption, as the latter situation does not lead to permanent elimination of the use of sludge in agriculture. In the first stage, the biological basis for biodegradation is understood and the isolates obtained are used in the second phase on a pilot scale as inoculum.

Project duration: 07/2013- 12/2016

Project duration at the University of Kaiserslautern: 01/2016-12/2016

Person in charge: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Heidrun Steinmetz

Funding: Willy-Hager-Foundation, Stuttgart