The figures for sludge production in Lombardy (800,000 tonnes, of which 500,000 deriving from urban wastewater – ARPA 2017 data) underline the need to find long-term strategies for the treatment, recovery and re-use of such waste which involve a sustainable management approach designed to assure the well-being of people and the land.
This need has led us to the setting up of the FANGHI Lab circular economy project for the experimentation of advanced forms of management of purification sludge, with the creation of a Lombardy hub for the development of the region. Presented by A2A Ambiente S.p.A., lead partner in a collaboration involving Brianzacque S.r.l., Istituto Di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri IRCCS, Lariana Depur S.p.A., MM S.p.A. and TCR Tecora S.r.l, the project won Lombardy Region’s Call Hub Ricerca e Innovazione tender.
The FANGHI project was initiated in 2019 within the sphere of the working groups of the Lombardy Energy Cleantech Cluster and sets out to test new purification sludge treatment technologies so as to optimize management of the disposal and of the recovery of energy and raw materials, and to deliver sustainability by harnessing sludge’s potential as an agricultural fertilizer. Experimentation aims to identify the most advantageous strategy, single or combined, in terms of public health, environmental, energy and economic sustainability.
Each partner involved in the project will contribute with specific activities and action. In the field of thermal WtE, MM will build an experimental facility for the mono-combustion of mixed dehydrated and dried sludge, and will test a sludge carbonization process (HTC).
In two different plants, A2A Ambiente will test both co-combustion with residual and non-recuperable urban waste in order to optimize energy and material recovery, and also mono-combustion for the extraction and recovery from ashes of an essential nutrient, phosphorous.
BrianzAcque will test an innovative plant, the first of its kind in Europe, which is able to biologically dry purification sludge and reduce the amounts sent on for energy recovery.
In the field of sustainable management and treatment of urban wastewater, LARIANA DEPUR will experiment with different technologies for the removal of perfluorinated compounds (PFAS) and will set up two pilot plants in order to assess the removal of these compounds from wastewater and sludge.
The role of TCR TECORA® will be that of developing innovative technology able to evaluate public health and environmental impacts using combined systems for the monitoring of air quality and of creating a prototype for real-time monitoring of stack and flue metals.
Lastly, for the purpose of assessing the health-environmental impact of the various sludge use strategies, the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri is going to apply the criteria of the 2019 guidelines set out by Italy’s Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS).
Furthermore, a number of sector experts and academics involved in the project will look at economic and regulatory aspects of the beneficial measures and action proposed.
A further element of innovation in the project concerns the treatment of boiler bottom ashes and light ashes produced by WtE plants, material that, currently, is still disposed of in landfills. The idea is that of a stabilization process to extract inert material that can be used in the construction sector as a replacement for some virgin raw materials. Italy lacks raw materials; the possibility of re-using stabilized waste instead of certain natural materials, for example, falls within the principles of the circular economy.
The interdisciplinary team of experts will assess the impact of the best innovative technologies for the recovery of energy and nutrients so as to ensure personal and environmental well-being.
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