Huercasa successfully tests pioneering wastewater purification system with algae

Huercasa, a leading company in the production of ready-made vegetables at European level, is successfully testing a purification system for the wastewater generated by vegetable processing that uses microalgae; a pioneering technique in Europe that is part of the LIFE ALGAECAN project.

This project is funded by the European Union through the LIFE program, the Union's financial instrument to promote demonstration projects in the field of the environment. This week, representatives of the European Commission have visited the Huercasa plant in Sanchonuño to check the progress achieved with the program.

The main objective of the project is to reduce the environmental impact and the economic cost of vegetable production by treating the wastewater produced by this type of industries by means of heterotrophic microalgae.

Heterotrophic microalgae are those that need organic compounds for nutrition and that grow in the absence of light. They have great potential to remove organic carbon and various types of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds from wastewater, as they use it as a source of carbon and energy without the need for sunlight.

The project started in October 2017 and is currently in the demonstration phase. In February 2020, the demonstrator in Sanchonuño is scheduled to be moved to Slovenia, to the facilities of the VIPI company, another of ALGAECAN's partners, to verify its operation with other types of water and in other environmental conditions.

After the first tests carried out in recent months by Huercasa, it has been found that the purified water obtained meets the legal limits for discharge, in addition to completely eliminating the sludge that is usually generated with the traditional purification process of this type of water in aerobic conditions. Microalgae are obtained as a byproduct, and these can be used as fertilizer or for animal feed.

The fact that the entire process is carried out in the absence of light makes it possible to work with closed tanks, which significantly reduces the amount of space required for the purification process. With other methods, carried out in autotrophic conditions, large areas are needed in order for algae to receive the necessary light to perform the water purification.

The plant prototype is also powered by renewable energy sources, specifically with solar energy and biomass support, as the idea is to minimize the carbon footprint and operating costs.

The ultimate goal of the project is for its results to be replicated in other places.

The ALGAECAN project consortium is formed by the CARTIF Technology Center (as coordinator), HUERCASA (Spain), the University of Athens (Greece), the AlgEn Technology Center (Slovenia) and VIPÎ (Slovenia).

Huercasa has maintained active policies in water issues for years, both in terms of saving and purification. As regards the latter, Huercasa has its own treatment plant, in which annual investments are made in order to implement improvements and ensure that the water discharged complies with all the parameters established by law.

In addition, and for greater security, the company has been collaborating for years with the municipal wastewater treatment plant of Sanchonuño, the town where the company's main plant is located and where its waste is generated. 

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