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Boosting the circular economy – utilisation of urban waste streams

A new research project coordinated by TUT will be researching how the utilisation of the energy content and nutrients contained in municipal wastewater and biowaste could be increased.
Professor Jukka RIntala
Professor Jukka RIntala

Currently a significant portion of the nutrients used in plant production end up in municipal waste: in wastewater and biowaste. However, these types of waste are valuable raw materials that can be utilised in many ways, such as in the production of biogas for use as vehicle fuel, or to provide various nutrients for use in agricultural food and fodder production. Improving the recovery and recycling of nutrients is particularly important, as the natural supply of many nutrients crucial to plant life, such as phosphorus, is limited.

Coordinated by Tampere University of Technology, the ProRavinne project will be developing the operation of a wastewater treatment plant so that the nutrients contained in wastewater can be recovered in a manner that makes their utilisation as practical as possible. Launched at the start of the year, the project is being conducted in collaboration with Nokian Vesi Oy, Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management Ltd. and Natural Resources Institute Finland. 

"Our assumption is that more effective wastewater pre-treatment methods can optimise the energy balance and the solids and nutrients recovery of municipal wastewater treatment plants," says Professor Jukka Rintala from TUT.

The project will also be looking into a new way of combining the handling of the sludge recovered in the wastewater treatment process and biowaste. The aim is to make the operation of wastewater treatment plants more economical and environmentally sustainable. 

"We are taking steps to transition from so-called end-of-pipe technologies to more controlled material cycles in this globally significant sector."

One of the pre-treatment methods that the researchers are interested in is microfiltration, the aim of which is to improve the recovery of solids and nutrients from the wastewater. Microfiltration allows the energy and nutrients contained in solids to be recovered in a biogas production process, in addition to which it improves the energy consumption of traditional wastewater treatment plants.

Results to aid in the design of a new wastewater treatment plant

The project's first trial runs will begin in early 2017 at Nokian Vesi's Kullaanvuori wastewater treatment plant. The project will also involve a thorough review of the energy, material and nutrient streams of the current wastewater treatment plant, to be conducted in early 2017. Over the course of the project, researchers will be looking into how new kinds of wastewater pre-treatment methods affect the energy consumption and the recovery of nutrients at wastewater treatment plants.

Nokian Vesi Oy and Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management Ltd. are preparing for major plant investments in the area of Kolmenkulma Eco-Industrial Park (Virtaamo) in Nokia. The results of the project can be utilised in the design of the new wastewater treatment plant to be built in the area, as well as in other operations in the area.

"In addition to the parties involved in the project, we are also producing information for other decision-makers, companies and process planners operating in the sector. We are interested in continuing to look into various technological and equipment solutions in collaboration with the sector's companies," says Jukka Rintala.

Set to continue until 2019, the project is being jointly conducted by Tampere University of Technology's Laboratory of Chemistry and Bioengineering, Nokian Vesi Oy, Tampere Regional Solid Waste Management Ltd. and Natural Resources Institute Finland. The project is being funded from the Finnish Government's key project funding as part of the Ministry of the Environment's programme to promote the recycling of nutrients and to improve the status of the Archipelago Sea.

Additional information: Professor Jukka Rintala, jukka.rintala@tut.fi, tel. +358 (0)40 506 2425

News submitted by: Sanna Kähkönen
Keywords: science and research, services and collaboration, chemistry and bioengineering, energy