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In the group, we are developing novel sustainable technologies by synergistically tackling several process challenges. One of these concerns the access to energy and water, which underpins the economic and social development of every country. The increasing demand of these two interrelated resources requires the development of new sustainable processes to decrease the energy consumed in the water cycle, especially during water treatment processes.

Wastewater streams contain a significant number of compounds that are currently considered pollutants. However, human wastes should be considered a critical resource that could be extracted and reused, in which urine is an important one. 

Despite being present less than 1% of the total volume of domestic wastewater, urine contributes largely to all the nitrogen (~80%) produced, mainly in the form of urea ((NH2)2CO). Since urea is a hydrogen-rich compound (6.7 wt.%), it could be extracted from wastewater and then used for producing hydrogen as a source of green energy, reducing the energy demand of water treatment.

Additionally, urine also contributes significantly to all the phosphorus produced (~50%) produced mainly in the form of phosphate (PO43-). Extra value could be added to wastewater treatment by recovering phosphorus-based compounds, which can be later used as inorganic fertilizers.

The group is working on the development of technological processes for energy and nutrient recovery from wastewater streams. In particular, we are investigating adsorption as a technology that enables the removal of urea and phosphates from urine due to its great selectivity, simple operation, and high uptake capacity.  

A new perspective that re-evaluates human waste as reusable and eco-friendly resources should be established promoting the development of a circular economy in the water treatment.

Recent work in this field

[1] R. Asiain-Mira, M. Avena-Maia, L. Torrente-Murciano (2020). Energy recovery from wastewater – REWATERGY. CEB Focus 29. (Read more)

This work is funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions from the European Union.