NEPTUME (No-discharge Energy Efficient Prototype for the Treatment of Urban Municipal Effluent)
Like many other countries, Malta is experiencing increasingly severe drought conditions and chronic water shortages. Second class water, produced from urban municipal waste, has great potential for irrigation purposes in agriculture as well as landscaping. Yet piping wastewater over long distances for treatment leads to inefficiencies. This project studies the treatment of municipal sewage in situ using an innovative, compact membrane system coupled with a phytoremediation process to polish water for public spaces, irrigation, fountains and more. The research comprises state of the art continuous monitoring of the physical and chemical parameters of the water with real time data capture.
Over the years Malta has relied heavily on the unsustainable over-extraction of groundwater reserves and on Reverse Osmosis to meet national water demand. Although second class water produced from urban municipal waste has recognised potential for irrigation and other purposes, the practice of piping wastewater long distances for treatment would prove costly and inefficient and the treated effluent from a conventional municipal plant would still require further polishing to be suited for individual reuse applications. Sewage effluent may be sourced and treated locally, with specific on-site polishing of the resultant water.
NEPTUME studies the treatment of municipal sewage using a compact ceramic membrane system with recognised advantages over conventional membrane systems. The treated effluent will be subjected to a follow-on ecological and low energy phytoremediation process, polishing the water for use in public spaces and for irrigation purposes, fountains and more. The research project will set new standards for sustainability in landscaping schemes, agricultural activities, golf courses and recreational areas where sufficient water supply is not available.
NEPTUME combines the latest developments in flat sheet membrane technology with the nutrient-removal potential of follow-on biological phytoremediation processes, studying the benefits in the context of the regeneration of the derelict inner-harbour area around Dock One, Cospicua. Little data is available on the application of these technologies in Malta’s specific environment. The project will assess the suitability of different macrophytic species, their ability to absorb specific excess nutrients from the water, and their potential as a source of biomass for fuel. The physical and chemical parameters of the water will be monitored continually, with real time data ensuring the efficient processing and polishing of the water.
Barriers and Drivers
This research project will act as a catalyst in combining the expertise of malta's water utility, the Water Services Corporation, in water technology with the extensive experience of the University's Department of Biology in the field of environmental research, together with AP's architectural and landscaping design expretise. It is an unique opportunity to expose architects, planners and engineers to the potential of imporved energy efficient projects through a close working relationship with experts in the fields of water technology and environmental research.
Since the process will result in the reduced cost for the production of irrigigation water, the commercialisation potential for both the MBBR plant, and the MBBR + phytoremediation solution is high. The compactness and portability of the MBBR plant and its ease of operation make it ideal for ;
• Remote locations with no direct access to water where this mobile unitised solution is a “plug & play’’ solution for purposes of irrigation without the need of skilled operators.
• Water-starved areas where clean water produced from phytoremediation technology may be used in industry, agriculture and concurrently biomass production
• Sustainable gardens, public areas, golf courses and sports grounds, hotels etc..
A plant the size of a 20 foot container caters for a population of around 200 persons. Phytoremediation strategies may be further applied to polish domestic and grey water for reuse within industry.
Similar small portable containerised sewage treatment plant will reduce the capital infrastructural or transportation cost by treating the water at source.
The community will benefit from the potential of treating sewage at source instead of delivering the raw material to large central treatment plants, eliminating infrastructural costs and energy required. Treatment of the sewage effluent will produce high quality water which can be used for irrigation purposes. This would result in natural water extraction reduction and lower demand for desalinated water.
The project has educational value since it will be designed to be accessible to the public, thereby setting an example through water reuse in an important national project and promoting environmental sustainability in infrastructure projects.
Unitised municipal sewage plants may be manufactured in Malta, creating employment opportunities.
Benefits include a reduction in the national water production costs and electrical consumption, a reduction of water abstraction from the aquifer, greater availability of good quality water for irrigation and potential aquifer recharge; the project will also result in the reduction of treated sewage effluent discharge into the sea.