New nano engineered membrane to reduce waste water treatment costs

Sorigué and ICFO collaborate on a project to save energy in water treatment plants using nanotechnology techniques.

October 3, 2021

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 that were part of the company’s commitment to innovation as a strategic axis for the grown and differentiation of its business.

As a reference in the industry for wastewater treatment and the management of these plants, Sorigué teamed up with ICFO, with expertise in nanotechnologies, to develop membranes that reduce production and operating costs of these plants by increasing membrane stability and durability.

‘AQUA-GOX’: an exploratory project aimed at developing high-impact graphene-based membranes for water treatment. In the coming months, the project will advance to verify the performance of newly synthesized membranes for use in conventional water purification plants. In the lab-research phase of the project, ICFO and Sorigué already presented a patent for the membrane, having confirmed its potential to make a qualitative leap in wastewater treatment.

Innovation for conventional water plants

Membrane bioreactors (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 at a reduced cost 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.

The synthesized membrane developed using nanotechnology can be used in conventional waste water treatment processes. To this end, a pilot will be built in a WWTP where the surrounding population exceeds 100,000 inhabitants, treating the water exiting the biological reactors to verify its remotion efficiency in a real environment.A higher permeability of the membrane translates into less energy needed to filter water without compromising its quality. In addition, 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 wastewater 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 the company is currently managing. The initiative, which has been developing since 2018 in Sorigué’s Innovation Department, has been funded through the line ’Nuclis: Industrial research and experimental development’ 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, “there is a large market for membranes for biological reactors, and the improvement of their characteristics and properties has always aroused the interest of manufacturers”. In this sense, the alliance with ICFO, a research and technology center that is a leader in the production of advanced materials, nanostructures and surface coatings, has made possible a step forward in research, development and innovation processes for this field. It is a synergy that has taken advantage of the strengths of each of the teams to speed up the route from the lab to market of products that are the fruits of research, promoting technology transfer.