We Were Inspired by Microorganisms to Improve Waste Treatment
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We Were Inspired by Microorganisms to Improve Waste Treatment

The microbiota is the set of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc.) that live in a particular environment. Our digestive system benefits from its presence, as these microorganisms produce energy and vitamins and help absorb calcium and iron.

This set of microorganisms plays a fundamental role in the organic matter treatment processes that take place in waste treatment plants.  They use organic matter to carry out their vital functions and, as a result of these processes, produce high-value industry products such as biogas. Biogas can be used for energy production, helping to utilize waste and thus promoting the circular economy.

A greater understanding of the microorganisms present in the biomethanization process can certainly result in improvements to said process. For this reason, Sacyr, with Valoriza Medioambiente and together with the Center for Biotechnology and Plant Genomics (CBGP) of the Polytechnic University of Madrid and the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (UPM-INIA), is launching the MICROUWAS-BIO project. This R&D project has been financed by the Center for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) using public funds.

With this project, Valoriza wants to make improvements to the biomethanization process used in some of the company's municipal solid waste treatment plants (MSWTP).

Biomethanization, or anaerobic digestion, is a biological process that, in the absence of oxygen and throughout several stages in which a heterogeneous population of microorganisms is involved, allows the most biodegradable fraction of organic matter to be broken down into two products: biogas and digestate. Biogas is a mixture of gases composed mainly of methane, carbon dioxide and traces of other gases, while digestate is a stabilized organic material that undergoes a composting, storage and refining process, resulting in biostabilized material on the one hand and small rejected contaminant waste destined for the landfill on the other.

One of the biggest puzzles to be solved in this research is the control and knowledge of the microorganism populations involved in it.

Thus, the objective of this project is to design and develop a new small pilot-scale anaerobic digester in order to identify and analyze the microorganism populations involved and to model the microbial processes that occur in each stage of biomethanization, thus achieving biotechnological control that did not exist in this field until now. In this regard, a partnership will be established with CBGP and the biotechnology company Bioprocess Technology.

“Given the heterogeneity of the families themselves, as well as the starting material, it is a scientific milestone to be able to make progress in this area. In order to fully describe the size of the technological challenge facing VSM with this project, it is necessary to highlight the difficulties associated with the bioreactor itself, whose pilot scale aims to simulate and extrapolate results to be implemented on an industrial scale,” explains Ana Benavent, Director of Optimization, Improvement and Innovation at Valoriza Medioambiente.

The development of the project will use El Ecoparque de La Rioja (the MSWTP located in La Rioja and managed by VSM) as a reference. This is a comprehensive municipal waste management facility where municipal solid waste from all the municipalities in the Autonomous Community are sorted, recycled and recovered. This facility has been chosen as the site for the development of the project, as it carries out the typical biomethanization process that is present in most national and international plants.

This project is part of the Valoriza innovation line called Ecotechnologies, which will allow it to differentiate itself from the rest of its competitors and to become the benchmark company that creates and implements technological solutions adapted to the management of municipal solid waste treatment plants in the environment category Industry 4.0. Therefore demonstrating its commitment to European priorities in terms of municipal solid waste treatment.

In this way, Valoriza could increase the volume of biogas production and its quality; improve the quality of the final biostabilized material; reduce the amount of waste destined for the landfill and reduce its biological and chemical reactivity; reduce CO2 emissions in landfills; improve treatment efficiency and robustness; reduce electricity consumption by improving efficiency; identify potential microbial products (e.g. enzymes) with high added value and therefore likely to be exploited biotechnologically and lastly, offer our customers higher quality solutions.

Therefore, the specific strategic application of the Microsuwas-Bio project will be to obtain competitive advantages in future public tenders and concessions for the treatment of municipal solid waste through the improvement of biological processes.

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