Source separation and on-site wastewater treatment for improved food security and green development.
Field of study:
Water and Environmental Engineering.
Department of Mathematical Sciences and Technology (IMT) at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).
BSc in Arid Zone Agriculture (Soil and Water Conservation) from Asmara University, and MSc in Eremology (Development of Agriculture in Arid and Semi-arid regions) from the University of Ghent.
Ecomotive works actively on developing source-separating sanitary systems and resource recovery technologies. So far, an efficient and compacted greywater treatment system has been developed for recreational and single residential houses. As a next step, the company is doing further work on resource recovery and reuse aspects.
What is your project about?
Municipal water and sanitation management is one of the major economic, environmental and social challenges facing the world. The conventional treatment system, which focuses on the removal of organic matter and nutrients, has been regarded as energy and material-intensive and as not being sustainable. A decentralised and source-separated treatment system is an alternative and complementary solution. This approach, which is based on the concept of separate collection of used water – greywater (wastewater from kitchens, washing machines and showers) and blackwater (wastewater from toilets) – and treating them locally according to their characteristics for resource recovery and reuse, is gaining more attention.
In this project, we acknowledge wastewater as a valuable resource and regard households as important local sources of energy, nutrients and water for agricultural production within the community. This requires the development of novel, simple and self-sustaining technologies. To achieve this new strategy, we will do further work on developing technologies that combine novel processes to maximise the resource potential of wastewater, while at the same time minimising the associated environmental and public health risks.
Your project is currently in its sixth month and is thus a relatively young project. Before starting the project, you had been an employee of Ecomotive since July 2014. How is being an Industrial PhD candidate different from being a ‘regular’ employee of the company?
I was involved in the research and development unit of the company. It was also a learning process for me, especially in relation to the development of efficient on-site treatment technologies for sanitation and resource recovery. However, as an Industrial PhD candidate, I experience and benefit from academic research being integrated with a practical industrial environment. This integration of academic experience and knowledge with a practical industrial environment will allow me to broaden my network and understanding of the field of study and strengthen my experience.
The difference is that I gain more in terms of networking and learn more from both academia and the industrial environment. Striking a balance between academic performance and meeting the company’s needs is both a challenge and something that should prove fruitful. I think this is the best way of acquiring knowledge and building capacity in problem-based and solution-oriented projects like this.
Your previous education is a bachelor's degree from Eritrea, and a master's degree from Belgium. Have you noticed any big differences between being a student in Eritrea and Belgium, versus being a PhD candidate in Norway?
It is a matter of the level of education. In both my previous degree studies, I gained a lot from the theoretical aspects. But now it involves combining in-depth analysis and understanding of a specific subject with innovation, practical application and technology development, so it is more demanding and challenging.
What is it about your project that fascinates and excites you, both on the personal and on the academic level?
I am most worried about future challenges with respect to population growth, urbanisation, waste generation and water, energy and food insecurity. I am also very fascinated with the scientific and industrial responses and innovations that are being developed to avert these challenges.
I am excited to be working on the opportunities and values that these challenges present. Wastewater is a global challenge, but, if properly managed, it is a resource (containing energy, nutrients and water) with a huge potential in the circular economy and can be an alternative solution to local water, energy and food insecurity.
I am dedicated to contributing to the development of the next generation of source-separated wastewater treatment systems, where the wastewater streams are collected separately and effectively treated. At the same time, energy, nutrients and water are recovered locally and reused at a low cost, with high efficiency and in a sustainable way. Such an approach will significantly reduce the volume of wastewater and the pollutant concentrations released into the environment.
By reducing emissions locally and reusing the resources in situ, the system will contribute to green development. Achieving this will be very exciting for me on both the personal and academic level.
How will the project strengthen Ecomotive's position in its business market?
The company is one of the pioneers in source-separated sanitation and has made great advances in greywater treatment reuse for recreational and single residential houses. Ecomotive believes source separation to be a sustainable sanitation solution for the future. The research will contribute to developing new technologies for recovering nutrients and energy from the water cycle as an integral part of the activities of the company. It will therefore strengthen the company’s fulfilment of its objectives and help it to meet its future target for the development of decentralised, sustainable sanitary solutions.
And finally, do you have any advice for future or current candidates?
I am in the first phase of my study and I am still trying to find ways to strike a balance between being a student, an employee and a parent. All these require a good deal of time. But I found the short course on ‘Project Management’ very useful in relation to planning ahead. I recommend this course for those who do not have that background. An Industrial PhD can be a bridge between a company and academia. A good network and a close dialogue with the people concerned, both in the company and academia, are important.