Heavy metals are a major environmental issue as they pose a hazard to human and animal health. There is a high number of industrial activities that generate wastewater contaminated with heavy metals. According to the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR), the amount of heavy metals released into water in industrial facilities in EU-27 countries reached 3,210 tonnes in 2011.

The presence of certain heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead in water is an environmental issue of global significance. These metals are highly toxic, both for humans and for the environment, as they are bioaccumulative and are hazardous even at very low concentrations. New policies and solutions for these contaminants need to be addressed, which is the aim of BIOMETAL DEMO.

The availability of drinking water is one of the most pressing issues of our time, followed by food availability, as it has been recognized by the FAO (Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). Both subjects are decisive factors for development and global sustainability.

The project “Biometal demonstration plant for the biological rehabilitation of metal-bearing wastewaters” (BIOMETAL DEMO), which is part of the cooperation program in environment under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Union (http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/home_es.html), is led by Spanish partners and seeks to validate biotechnological solutions for the tertiary treatment of industrial wastewater contaminated with heavy metals.

On December 3, 2013, the first meeting among partners to launch the project BIOMETAL DEMO was held in Salamanca. The main objective of BIOMETAL DEMO (www.biometaldemo.eu) project is to provide a competitive solution for the treatment of industrial water contaminated, which will be done through two biotechnological processes:

  • Biosorption: consists in a separation process where natural compounds are used due to their ability to adsorb metals in order to remove them from water. In BIOMETAL DEMO, specific plant enzymes, biopolymers and biomass wastes from the food, marine and textile industries will be used to this effect.
  • Bioprecipitation by microorganisms: employs bacteria with the ability to remove metals from water and precipitate them as solid waste. In the project, bioprecipitation processes will be performed by sulphate-reducing bacteria.

In order to reach the objectives of the project, a first stage focused on research at laboratory scale will be carried out, in which different biotechnological processes will be studied, identifying the most suitable technique, both from a technical and economical point of view. This way, the selected processes will be scaled up and 3 pilot plants will be developed in order to treat acid mine drainages (Portugal), wastewater from a galvanizing industry (Spain) and from a ceramic tiles and glaces industry (Spain). These activities will be carried out by a multidisciplinary consortium research groups of excellence and companies.

The BIOMETAL DEMO project seeks to provide a technical and economically viable solution to industries that generate wastewater contaminated with heavy metals in order to fulfil the increasingly stringent legislation. Furthermore, BIOMETAL DEMO aims to improve the state of the environment by demonstrating the possibility of using industrial-scale bioprocesses for the removal of heavy metals from water.

The project consortium from BIOMETAL DEMO comprises companies and research centres from Portugal, France and Spain. The consortium consists of 9 partners: Contactica SL (Madrid company focused on R&D, project coordinator), Industrial Goñabe SL (Spanish galvanizing company), LCW Consult SA (Portuguese engineering and environmental design), Servyeco SL (Spanish water treatment company), Hidrolab SL (Spanish water treatment company), Alès School of Mines (ARMINES) (French research group with expertise in biosorption by biopolymers), Center for Marine Sciences at the University of Algarve (Portuguese research group expert in bioprecipitation by microorganisms), Faculty of Chemistry of the Complutense University of Madrid (Spanish research group with expertise in biosorption processes by means of biomass) and Research and Development Center of Water Technology (CIDTA) at the University of Salamanca (Spanish expert group in biocatalysis research applied to the treatment of contaminated water).

The project has a budget of € 4.3 MLL and has a European Grant of € 2.9 MLL. The duration of the project is 4 years (December 2013 – December 2017).

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