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Research and Development

Hera Group's research activities in 2009 chiefly concerned the development of environmental monitoring and control technologies, energy efficiency, optimisation of the network management, and the technological development of renewable sources. Research applied to systems producing energy from renewable sources was given particular emphasis, through a project designed by the Energy Laboratory, which will be implemented in 2010.

Leading research projects were:

 
  • Energy Laboratory

    Energy Laboratory. In 2009, the plan for the Energy Laboratory was finalised. It calls for an experimental centre for applied research on energy production from renewable and alternative sources, which will be opened in 2010 in Forlė (near the Regional Remote Control Hub and the laboratories for analysing solid wastes, sludge, dioxins and atmospheric emissions). The Energy Laboratory will evaluate various technologies, from those already available on the market to prototypes, with the help of an advanced network for measuring and acquiring data. The experimental activities will be managed in collaboration with the University of Bologna.

     
  • CO2 project

    CO2 Project. This project was started in 2005, with the objective of reducing purification sludge and greenhouse gas emissions. It involves experimenting with an innovative technology to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from exhaust gas produced by combustion processes and use it in the process of anaerobic digestion of purification sludge. In 2006 and 2007 a series of experimental activities were carried out at a specially-built pilot plant. The tests performed evidenced a good capacity in capturing the CO2 and a considerable increase of the specific production of biogas. In 2008, experimental activity continued, aimed at improving the anaerobic process, with the first industrial application project using a full-scale plan to verify its yield. During 2009, certain aspects related to the use of new process co-adjuvants were studied with the objective of further increasing the production of biogas. Also in 2009, some evaluations were carried out on the possibility of industry applications for this technology at Group plants.

     
  • Emerging Pollutants Project

    Emerging Pollutants Project. The term "Emerging Pollutants" (EP) means various biologically active substances of anthropic origin such as personal care products, medicines, psychoactive substances associated with drug addiction, and the relevant metabolites. Interfering endocrines is an unusual and transversal category compared to those listed above. The presence of these substances in the water is considered to be one of the most important environmental problems of the last decade. The problem affects both in Europe and in the United States. These pollutants enter the water systems through the residue of human or animal metabolism or their direct use in industry and agriculture. Hera started a research project in 2007 aimed at identifying the major EPs in the water systems (with particular reference to the natural water allocated for purification for drinking), developing analytical methods for determining their quantities, performing surveys on the presence of these substances in the water systems involved, and evaluating the removal effectiveness of current treatment systems (potability and purification). Hera takes an active part in the study group "Interfering endocrines and water intended for human consumption" (www.edinwater.com) promoted by the AMGA Foundation of Genoa (www.fondazioneamga.it). Other Italian multiutilities, various university departments and the Italian Institute of Health are members of the study group. In 2008, cooperation was also initiated with the Centro Ferrara Ricerche and with the Mario Negri Institute to investigate micro-pollutants from pharmaceuticals in wastewater. During 2009, the Group acquired some analytical methodologies and tested them in Group laboratories, and also performed some analyses on natural drinking water. Other analyses were performed on wastewater samples in collaboration with the Mario Negri Institute.

     
  • Environmental Catalysis Project

    Environmental Catalysis Project. The project, started in 2007 in collaboration of the University of Bologna and with the participation of the Italian Institute of Health, envisages reviewing the use of traditional catalytic converters used to abate NOx emissions and dioxins. During 2007, several commercial catalytic converters were analysed with outstanding results, especially for those used on the Group's plants. During 2008, a new filter prototype was designed and plans were made for detailed sampling and analysis of emissions by means of analyses by Group laboratories in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Health. Sampling began in 2009 at the new waste-to-energy plant in Forlė.
    At the same time, a study was performed on a catalytic converter used by the Group, with promising results.

     
  • Automatic Leakage Detection Project

    Automatic Leakage Detection Project. This project consists of studying innovative systems for automatically locating water leaks, to be used with the remote reading system. A test site was set up in 2007, and tests were carried out under different environmental conditions. The first experimental results were very interesting. In 2008, investigative techniques were refined by developing a device for automatic unsupervised data acquisition in the field, developing a statistical analysis tool on the MatLabŪ platform and designing a device to simulate water leaks. The device was built in 2009 and installed at actual user locations together with data acquisition tools developed in the previous year. The massive amount of data resulted in better analysis of the physical phenomenon compared to the past. In 2010, aspects related to the industrial production of the device will be studied.

     
  • Bio-Hydro Project

    Bio-Hydro Project. The project aims to develop a disposal cycle for organic waste from the agricultural-livestock sector consisting of the hydrogen fermentation of certain types of agricultural-livestock waste, and in the methane co-digestion of residuals for this process with other agricultural-livestock waste and/or the organic separation of solid urban waste. The project was carried out in collaboration with Herambiente and engineering faculty at the University of Bologna and was co-financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests.

     
  • Energy Efficiency Benchmarking Project

    Energy Efficiency Benchmarking Project. The aim of the project is to supply tools to improve the energy efficiency of integrated water service systems. Through benchmarking and appropriate flow-charting of plant processes, it will be possible to measure and monitor the energy efficiency of each plant. The activity will initially involve the purification plants. The project is coordinated by the Water Research Centre of Swindon (UK) and various European multiutilities take part in it. The activity, which began in 2007, continued throughout 2008 with the characterisation of energy consumption at the purification plant of Cervia (Ravenna province) and with the definition of the metering points to verify the actual efficiency improvement. In 2009, project activity involved installing the energy model at the pilot plant. At the same time, the Group's Energy Management unit analysed the economic aspects, also considering the incentive system provided for in governing regulations.

     
  • Fuel-Cell Project

    Fuel-Cell Project. The project sets out to evaluate the efficiency of plants for distributed production of electricity and heat through combustion cells fuelled by methane or hydrogen. During 2006, a polymeric-membrane cell prototype fuelled by methane was created. In 2007, the cell was transferred to the ENEA laboratories in Bologna. During 2008, functionality tests were conducted and the possibility of performing an upgrade to the cell was evaluated with the builder. In 2009, the cell was upgraded for its possible use in the Energy Laboratory.

     
  • Automatic Plant Operation Project

    Automatic Plant Operation Project. The project, developed in cooperation with ENEA, involves the development of a system for the automatic management of the main function parameters in the water supply service plants. The system shall maintain the process conditions of a specified plant within its maximum efficiency, based on the composition of the incoming wastewater (purifiers) or of the incoming raw water (potability treatment plants). The objectives are to guarantee the quality of the final product and to reduce energy consumption. Work began in 2008 on the water treatment plant at Calderara di Reno (Bologna province), which will be used as the test site. In 2009, the analysis and control tools were installed at the site and field data acquisition was initiated.

     
  • Modelling Project for Plants of the Water Cycle

    Modelling Project for Plants of the Water Cycle. The project expects to develop mathematical models for the purpose of hydraulic and process simulation of purification plants. The objective is to acquire the tools and know-how needed to coordinate mathematical modelling of the plants of the Integrated Water Cycle. This activity will take place alongside the already consolidated network models to support operations, strengthen the plants, and increase their efficiency. The project is being carried out in collaboration with ENEA. In 2009, preliminary activities to develop a model of the sample site and to select off-the-shelf calculation software were performed.