Scale-up of low-carbon footprint MAterial Recovery Techniques in existing wastewater treatment PLANTs

Scale-up of low-carbon footprint MAterial Recovery Techniques in existing wastewater treatment PLANTs

21st July 2020 newsletter research focus 0

Project in focus

Scale-up of low-carbon footprint MAterial Recovery Techniques in existing wastewater treatment PLANTs


The effort to upgrade urban wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) into bio-refineries capable to recover and to produce valuable resources is hindered by the fact that technical, economic and environmental impact analyses are complex and time expensive. Since June 2016, the EU funded Horizon 2020 Innovation Action Project SMART-PlantScale-up of low-carbon footprint material recovery techniques in existing wastewater treatment plants – has scientifically explored and practically demonstrated how circular cconomy initiatives can be aligned with sustainable urban (waste)water system management. By addressing a gradual transition of existing WWTPs towards water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs), SMART-Plant has: improved energy efficiency, functional performance and holistic impact; reduced waste externalities; supported policies; generated greater values and commercial inter-sectorial opportunities; considered the potential of new business models. Scale-up and next-step-development have been achieved, technological barriers have been overcome and solutions are generally ready for full-scale-up.

The general objective of SMART-Plant was to validate and to address to the market a portfolio of eco-innovative solutions (the SMARTechs) that, singularly or combined, can renovate and upgrade existing municipal WWTPs to WRRFs and pave the way to deliver circular economy by demonstrating sustainable inter-sectorial value chains. The SMARTechs operated as main sources of (i) recovered materials, to develop SMART-Products and (ii) long-term data to: model, assess and (in ETV eligible cases) certify the eco-innovative solutions.

Table 1. SMART-Plant integrated WRRFs.

SMARTech Site Key enabling process(es) SMART-product(s)
1 Geestmerambacht (NL) Upstream dynamic fine-screen and post-processing of cellulosic sludge Cellulosic sludge, refined clean cellulose
2a Karmiel (Israel) Mainstream polyurethane-based anaerobic biofilter Biogas, Energy-efficient water reuse
2b Manresa (ES) Mainstream SCEPPHAR P-rich sludge, PHA
3 Cranfield (UK) Mainstream tertiary hybrid ion exchange Nutrients
4a Carbonera (IT) Sidestream SCENA+conventional AD P-rich sludge, VFA
4b Psyttalia (GR) Sidestream SCENA+enhanced AD P-rich sludge
5 Carbonera (IT) Sidestream SCEPPHAR PHA, struvite, VFA
Downstream SMARTechA London (UK) Formulation of recovered cellulosic and PHA materials+extrusion Biocomposite (Sludge Plastic Composite – SPC)
Downstream SMARTechB Manresa (ES) Dynamic composting of P-rich sludge using minerals as bulking agents; bio-drying of cellulosic sludge P-rich compost, enriched with minerals; fuel for biomass plants


The majority of the main and side-stream SMARTechs fully demonstrated their capacity to reduce cost for sludge disposal, energy demand and carbon footprint, while resulting in energy, nutrients and other materials recovery (such as cellulose, biopolymers and biofertilizers). The high recovery rates of the SMARTechs contribute to comply with tight nutrient discharge limits in effluent water. The SMART-Plant approach is contributing to a green and circular economy and to a long-term sustainable. Moreover, SMART-Plant results show that material recovery can reduce the overall energy demand and GHG emissions considerably (i.e. up to -70%). These savings originate in part from the substitution of primary resources and products with the recovered materials, but mainly from operational benefits in the WWTP treatment scheme. The long-term results of the project are reported in Table 2. Benefits, comprehending OPEX savings and additional revenues, range between 1 and 7 EUR/PE, with CAPEX ranging between 6 to 20 EUR/PE.

Table 2. Long-term SMARTech Evidence Based results.

Cellulose kg/PE/y 2-7.3
PHA kg/PE/y 1-1.2
CaP kg/PE/y 0.4-0.8
Struvite kg/PE/y 0.2-0.4
Ammonia and ammonium sulphate kgN/PE/y 20-30
Energy saving % 4-68
GHG emission reduction % 1-71
Sludge reduction % 18-30


In addition, SMART-Plant validated digital support tools/systems for: (i) real-time monitoring of energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions during process operation (ii) support decision on the optimal configuration of a WWTP considering integration of SMART-Plant resource recovery processes, through a multi-parameters analysis and evaluation. Furthermore, SMART-Plant validated a user-friendly interface web-application to simplify and standardize data input and results reporting, giving the plant operator optimal insight and control.

A large part of the SMART-Plant efforts was dedicated to overcoming social and legislative barriers and evaluate public attitude towards nutrients and materials recovered from wastewater. A social life cycle assessment (S-LCA) was performed to look at social impacts across a wide range of stakeholder groups. In addition to TRL, SMART-Plant provided an estimation of ‘’societal readiness level’’ (SRL) to assess the level of societal adaptation of the innovative solutions.

Encouraging and tangible results were reached by SMART-Plant in terms of policy support at national and European level, both directly and through the participation to EU stakeholders platforms activities. For instance, in Italy, SMART-Plant has contributed to promote incentives to resource recovery in the new draft of sludge management decree.  A major outcome was results and the recommendations of the workshop organized by SMART-Plant within the Final Conference in Venice acknowledged as a significant input for EU policy makers and turned into an EC official publication on H2020 Water Innovations for Sustainable Impacts in Industries and Utilities. A cluster of local Hubs, serving specific areas of interest, has been structured to promote and support the exploitation of the SMART-solutions beyond the project.


Project Funding:

The Project Smart-PLANT is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the grant agreement No 690323.


Project partners:

Further information:

For further information about the Smart-PLANT project, please visit the project website at:

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