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Research and Development

The Group’s research activities once again chiefly concerned the optimisation of the network management, the environmental monitoring systems, the recovery of energy and materials from waste, and technological development in renewable sources.

Leading research projects during 2006 concerned:

 
  • CO2 project

    This project was started up in 2005, with the objective of reducing sludge from wastewater treatment and greenhouse gas emissions, and increase the production of biogas.

    It involves experimentation of an innovative technology for capturing CO2 issuing from exhaust gas produced by combustion processes and its use in the process of anaerobic digestion of sewage sludge. In 2006, the initial phase was completed with positive results: Conclusive tests demonstrated the capacity to capture up to 70% of CO2 in emissions treated; Conclusive tests on the production of natural gas were run in 2007 with results going beyond all expectations: with respect to an expected 30% increase, there was actually a 160% increase. Additional experimental activities aimed at assessing the possibility of treating different organic matrixes and increasing process yields are currently in progress.

     
  • Emerging Pollutants Project

    The term “Emerging Pollutants” (EP) means various biologically active substances of anthropic origin such as medicines, psychoactive substances associated with drug addiction, their metabolites, and personal care products. That of the interfering endocrines is an unusual and transversal category compared to those listed above. The presence of these substances in the water is considered to be one of the most important environmental problems in the last decade. The problem is perceived both in Europe and in the United States. These pollutants enter the water systems through the residue of human or animal metabolism or their direct use in industry and agriculture. These are the reasons why Hera started a research project in 2007 aimed at identifying the major EPs in the water systems (with particular reference to the natural water allocated for purification for drinking), at developing analytical methods for determining their quantities, at performing surveys on the presence of these substances in the water systems involved, and at evaluating the removal effectiveness of current treatment systems (potability and purification).   Hera takes an active part in the study group “Interfering endocrines and water intended for human consumption” (www.edinwater.com) promoted by the AMGA Foundation of Genoa (www.fondazioneamga.it). Other Italian multiutilities, various university departments and the Italian Institute of Health are members of the study group.

     
  • Environmental Catalysis Project

    The project, started in 2007 with the collaboration of the University of Bologna and with the participation of the Italian Institute of Health, envisages checking the use of traditional catalytic converters used to abate NOx emissions and dioxins. Characterisation of several commercial catalytic converters was carried out in 2007 with outstanding results, above all for those used on the Group’s plants.

     
  • Electro-osmotic reclamation of sewage sludge

    The aim of the project, started in2006 in collaboration with the University of Ferrara, is to apply the electrokinetic techniques used for reclaiming polluted land, so as to improve the features of sewage sludge. The initial tests carried out on a micro-prototype produced significant results in terms of removal of pollutants.

     
  • Ferrara Waters Project

    Actions designed to support the management of the Ferrara water system via application of state-of-the-art technological solutions (mathematical simulation models and forecasting models for refurbishment of water pipes). During 2006, the mathematical model of the network was developed and the first measures for implementing a "division into districts" carried out. Effective leakage detection campaigns have also been carried out, availing of acoustic instrumentation. An optimization model to plan actions for the refurbishment of the waterway network instead was set up in 2007.

     
  • Automatic Leakage Detection Project

    The project has come about as a natural development of remote reading of drinking water meters. It consists of studying innovative systems for automatically locating water leaks, to be used with the remote reading system. A test site was set up in 2007, and tests in different environmental conditions were carried out.

     
  • Energy Efficiency Benchmarking Project

    The aim of the project is to supply tools to improve the energy efficiency of integrated water service systems. Through benchmarking and an appropriate schematization of the plant processes, it will be possible to measure and monitor the energy efficiency of each plant. The activity initially regards the purification plants. The project is coordinated by the Water Research Center of Swindon (England) and various European multiutilities take part in it.

     
  • Fuel-Cell Project

    Fuel-Cell Project. Construction of plants for distributed production of electricity and heat through combustion cells fuelled by methane or hydrogen. During 2006, a polymeric-membrane cell prototype was created fuelled by reformed methane.