New nano engineered membrane to reduce waste water treatment costs

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New nano engineered membrane to reduce waste water treatment costs

September 13, 2021

Sorigué and ICFO collaborate a project involving nanotechnology techniques as solutions for energy saving in water treatment plants

Back in 2018, Sorigué, a leading group of companies in the technological and water engineering, services, construction and materials sectors, and ICFO signed an agreement to undertake research projects together to help innovation become one of the company’s business’s strategic axis of growth and differentiation.

Sorigué is known, among others, for its expertise in waste water treatment and the management of these plants. Throughout these years, the business group has been working on the development of membranes to seek innovative solutions that could improve the sustainability of the water cycle, by increasing the membranes’ properties by the use of nanotechnology techniques and thus reducing operation costs.  

To be able to do this, Sorigué has taken advantage of its relationship with ICFO and together have put in motion ‘AQUA-GOX’, a project aimed at developing high-impact membranes based on graphene for water treatment improvement. The project aims to use graphene to improve the stability and durability of the synthesized membranes that help filter waste water and verify their performance for use in conventional water purification plants. 

Innovation for conventional water plants 

Membrane biological reactors (MBR) currently used in water treatment plants are very expensive in terms of energy, operation and maintenance. AQUA-GOX proposes to develop a commercial membrane with innovative materials that ensures low manufacturing and operating costs, without compromising the expected high-quality standards of the material in terms of thermal, mechanical and chemical stability. “We seek to synthesize a membrane that is cheaper and that has a higher permeability and fewer cleaning requirements, without altering its selectivity,” explains Silvia Carrasco, Director of the Knowledge and Technology Transfer unit at ICFO. 

By using nanotechnology techniques, the developed synthesized membrane can be used in conventional waste water treatment processes. For this purpose, a future pilot will be built in a WWTP where the surrounding population exceeds the 100,000 inhabitants. The goal of this plant is to treat the water coming out of the biological reactors will be treated and verify its efficiency in a real environment.

A higher permeability of the membrane translates into less energy needed to filter water without compromising its quality. Also, thanks to the biocidal properties of graphene, it will require fewer cleaning steps to maintain its performance. This new membrane promises to reduce energy consumption and ensure a more sustainable process. In addition, the product will favor the circular economy because "more and more, industry is betting on membrane technologies to increase the quality of the effluent from waste water treatment plants and promote its reuse in municipal, industrial or agricultural applications", emphasizes Andreu Iglesias, Sorigué's engineering, operation and maintenance delegate.

Synergies for competitiveness

As a leader in infrastructure and sanitation systems, Sorigué hopes to demonstrate the competitive advantages of AQUA-GOX by transferring the results of this research to more than 15 treatment plants that is currently managed by the company. The initiative, which has been taking shape since 2018 within Sorigué’s Innovation Department has been funded through the line 'Industrial research and experimental development Nuclei' for circular economy projects of ACCIÓ, the Agency for Company Competitiveness of the Generalitat of Catalonia and with the support of FEDER funds.

According to Joan Pons, Director of Innovation at Sorigué, "the market for membranes for biological reactors is wide, and the improvement of their characteristics and properties has always aroused the interest of manufacturers". In this sense, the alliance with ICFO, a leading research and technology center in the production of advanced materials, nanostructures and surface coating, has facilitated taking a step further in research, development and innovation processes for this field. A synergy that has taken advantage of the strengths of each of the teams, which aims to speed up the transfer and promote technology transfer of products from the lab to the market. Such is this synergy that Sorigué has already presented a membrane patent in the lab-research phase, which confirms its potential as a key element a qualitative leap enabler in waste water treatment.