Scarcity of clean water is one of the most serious global challenges. In its
spearhead programme, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland developed
energy-efficient methods for reuse of water in industrial processes and means
for recovering valuable minerals and materials from waste for recycling. Rapid
tools were also developed for identification of environmental pollutants.
When water and wastewater systems are developed in a comprehensive manner, it
is possible to recover valuable metals and other materials and secure
availability of clean water. Cleaning and treatment processes can also be
linked to energy production, and the processes and urban structures designed
in such a manner that wastewater treatment does not consume energy or cause
“Wastewater treatment and waste treatment have mainly been implemented by
legal necessity. Now we should modify our way of thinking so that we would be
able to regard waste disposal sites and purification plants as sources or raw
materials and energy. In the near future, technology has been refined far
enough to allow such waste treatment plants to operate on their own," says Mona
Arnold, Principal Researcher at VTT.
Recycling valuable minerals and materials
Demand has arisen for technologies capable of recovering even tiny amounts of
minerals from waste flows. Recovering them from municipal or mining
wastewaters requires better recovery methods than those available today. VTT
has developed extraction methods for metals and minerals from waste materials.
Biological extraction methods by which metals are recovered from mining, metal
and recycling industry waste by utilising microbes and chemical reactions are
under testing stages and they are forcasted for market uptake within the next
Other valuable elements can also be found from waste flows. For example, the
food industry by-product flows contain biochemicals and proteins that can be
utilised better than is currently possible, if only they could be effectively
recovered from waste. One possibility is to use enzymes. VTT researchers
developed an enzyme-assisted method by which feed products can be produced
from side streams deriving from turnip rape processing in food industry.
Reducing energy consumption in water treatment
Treatment of water in purification plants and industrial facilities consumes
vast amounts of energy. Usually water recycling and seawater desalination are
based on the use of filtration membranes that consume energy. VTT developed
intelligent membrane materials, reducing the need of purification, for
Membrane solutions using only small amounts of energy were developed for water
treatment purposes. VTT has collaborated with a university in Singapore to
develop a method based on forward osmosis technology, by which metals and
biocomponents can be recovered and concentrated from industrial process
The pumping and distribution of water to consumers and industry also consumes
major amounts of energy. The need for pumping can be minimised if the process
water can be recirculated within the plant, and the distribution network is
made more effective by enhanced monitoring and location of leaks.
Sensors for identifying environmental hazards
The VTT spearhead programme also developed sensor technology for easy and
rapid detection of pollutants. VTT indicators facilitate rapid identification
of, for example, small but hazardous cyanobacterial toxin levels and phenolic,
hormone-like compounds. There is need for such indicators in developing
countries, suffering from lack of trained personnel and laboratories. The
technology will be ready for production use within the next few years.
VTT developed new solutions in its spearhead programme Green Solutions for
Water and Waste in 2011−2013.
The R&D aimed at enhanced cleantech industry competitiveness combined the VTT
competencies in, for example, biotechnology, modelling, sensor technology, and