x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Energy project leaves nothing to waste

A Dutch company hopes to turn waste into clean water and energy, and will pitch idea to Masdar and UAE developers.

SNEEK, THE NETHERLANDS // The garage in a low-income neighbourhood, where a bust of Marilyn Monroe peeks out of a nearby apartment window, is marked only by the letter "B".

Inside, it smells like a stable. That is the odor of sewage being converted to energy and clean water.

"Of course, it has to meet certain standards," says Liesbeth Wiersma, a consultant for Desah, the Dutch company that makes the system to cut water consumption and turn human waste into biogas.

"The whole idea behind it is water reduction and what it can do about water scarcity."

Some companies have turned dishwater into water to irrigate farms, while others have focused on building biomass plants that turn waste into energy. Desah wants to accomplish both tasks at once, and it has its eyes on the UAE for its first site outside of Europe.

The UAE, with its desert climate and growing water and energy needs, is ideal territory for Desah, said Brendo Meulman, the company's technical director.

Mr Meulman hopes to sell the technology to Masdar, Abu Dhabi's clean energy company, and UAE housing developers.

"They are very ambitious when it comes to sustainability, and the concept they have is not only focusing on water saving but also on energy producing and the recovery of nutrients," said Mr Meulman. "In the UAE, hopefully we can accomplish some projects within some years."

The technology, developed at a Dutch university, begins with a special toilet costing €200 (Dh1,049), with separate outlets for solid and liquid waste.

The wastewater is piped to a central point, such as the garage in Sneek, a remote northern town of 33,000 residents. The pilot project, which has been running for five years, serves 25 households and is subsidised by the government.

A series of tanks extracts phosphate and nitrogen, which can be used to fertilise crops, then purifies the water with oxygen. The water can then be used for irrigating gardens or flushing toilets.

"We meet better standards than the conventional wastewater treatment plants in the Netherlands right now," Ms Wiersma said.

"When you are able to do this at a larger scale, you might be able to do so much that it might be lucrative."

Solid waste is then put through a digestor, where bacteria release a gas that can then be burned as energy. Excess sludge is sent to conventional treatment plants.

The system is designed to cut water use by 25 per cent. Desah claims that because people become more aware of how much they use, the reduction has been 40 per cent.

Desah is building a second site to serve a new housing development in Sneek, with low-income households and a building for the elderly. The €1.2 million system will serve 250 households.

The technology needs to serve at least 500 households before it becomes commercially viable, and because of the high upfront cost, it is best suited to new housing centres.

Mr Meulman pitched the idea to UAE property developers a few years ago but talks stalled when the property market went into downturn.

"Within one year, we will move forward again to approach the market over there," he said.

ayee@thenational.ae