At the end of April, we spoke with María Teresa López, Project Manager at the European Science Communication Institute (ESCI), to find out a bit more about the ambitious and innovative European project SEA4VALUE. This new project is the first attempt to recover minerals and metals from brines produced in seawater desalination plants in a cost-effective way. This time, we had the opportunity to speak with Sandra Meca Fàbrega, Head of Waste and Circular Economy at Fundació EURECAT, responsible for the coordination of SEA4VALUE, to dig a little deeper and learn who is behind this proposal and the innovational technology being developed.
On Wednesday 11th of May, SEA4VALUE will also be hosting a free and online seminar for university students titled: “Innovative Technologies for Seawater Brines Revalorisation: SEA4VALUE project.”
Question: The SEA4VALUE project is coordinated by Eurecat. Could you tell us a bit more about what your work as coordinator consists of?
Answer: SEA4VALUE coordination is carried out by a coordination team: Hanna Arpke as the project coordinator, Alba Garcia as financial coordinator, and Sandra Casas and myself as technical coordinators. The coordination team manages the consortium, arranges meetings and is responsible to meet reporting requirements, as well as giving support on scientific, administrative, financial and legal management. In addition, the coordinator takes care of the communication between the consortium partners and the EU.
In my case, as technical coordinator, I handle technical aspects of the project mainly related with the technology development and the integration of all of them in the multi-mineral modular brine process.
Q: The EU-funded SEA4VALUE project will develop a multi-mineral modular brine mining process. Why is this project of interest for the European Union?
A: Raw Materials are essential for the sustainable and sound functioning of Europe’s industries. Thus, securing access to raw materials, and especially those defined as critical, is essential to stimulate investment in innovation and new technologies.
A potential source of raw materials is the sea, which contains over 40 different elements and minerals of economic interest. Even so, extracting metals and minerals from the sea is a big challenge due to high salinity of this effluent and the low concentration of some of the more interesting raw materials. The project is tackling these challenges by developing new technologies combined in an innovative brine mining process.
Besides assessing the technology feasibility, it will be crucial to ensure market uptake of the recovered metals and minerals
The implementation of this new process would allow the mining of 9 metals and minerals from seawater brines, converting seawater desalination brines in a new source of raw materials in Europe.
Q: What benefits are expected from technologies for mineral recovery and to what extent is there a market for the adoption of such technologies in treatment plants?
A: To ensure the market uptake of Sea4value technologies, these are being developed under a sustainability approach, considering technical, economic, environmental, and social aspects. The new process is designed to be as efficient as possible in terms of water, energy and reagents use, without compromising the technical viability. The implementation of these technologies in seawater desalination plants will allow, not only to extract raw materials from brines, but also increase the overall water production. In addition, the reduction or elimination of brine management costs and revenues from elements recovered will boost the implementation of seawater desalination plants. These plants, strategic facilities to deal with water scarcity, are very relevant around the world. The SEA4VALUE process is being designed to be easily implemented in any existing desalination plant, as well as in new ones that will be built in future.
Q: The project is backed by a consortium representing the entire value chain. What private and public entities are currently participating in SEA4VALUE? And what role does each one have?
A: This European project brings together 16 partners from Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Ukraine, Netherlands, Finland and Switzerland.
Aqualia, as a seawater desalination plant operator, will validate the technologies, implementing a moving lab to test them with real brine in two seawater desalination plants locations and will give recommendations for future implementation of the new process.
The 10 new technologies and the simulation platform are being developed by three private companies (Técnicas reunidas SA, Sealeau BV, Water Energy Intelligence), six universities (Università della Calabria, Universitaet Bremen, Universitat politècnica de Catalunya, KU Leuven, Dniprovsky State Technical University, LUT University) and one technological centre (Eurecat). In addition. Eurecat will analyze the environmental benefits derived from the implementation of these technologies.
SEA4VALUE will up-scale 10 technologies from TRL 2-3 up to TRL 5
OMYA, a leading global producer of industrial minerals, is involved in the exploitation and future market uptake of the recovered metals and minerals. DECHEMA is in charge of the market analysis reports for the minerals and metals that are going to be recovered and will write the reports of the brine composition catalogue and database.
The European Desalination Society (EDS) and the Catalan Water Partnership (CWP) engage with desalination plants to provide samples for their characterization and have a relevant role in events organization.
Finally, the European Science Communication Institute (ESCI) leads the communication and dissemination of the project results.
Q: The project intends to upscale ten innovative technologies. Could you tell us a bit more about these technologies?
A: SEA4VALUE will up-scale 10 technologies from TRL 2-3 up to TRL 5. These technologies aim to recover 9 metals and minerals. New selective membranes, green solvent extraction processes and innovative adsorbents are being investigated to recover trace elements selectively. In addition, concentration and crystallization technologies are being improved, aiming at recovering major components like Magnesium, while at the same time allow to recover water.
Q: Once the project is up and running, what will the next steps be?
A: Since the project started in May 2020, efforts have been made to develop technologies at a laboratory scale using synthetic brines. During the next two years, the technologies developed will be demonstrated and their combination in a brine mining process will be evaluated in a moving lab installed in two different oceanic settings: the Mediterranean Sea (Denia, Spain) and the Atlantic Sea (Fonsalía, Canary Islands, Spain).
Besides assessing the technology feasibility, it will be crucial to ensure market uptake of the recovered metals and minerals. For that reason, a market analysis is being carried out.
Q: Sea4value is organizing an online seminar on May 11th titled: Innovative Technologies for Seawater Brines Revalorisation. I would like to give you this space to invite SWM readers to participate in this online seminar.
A: During the seminar, the audience will have the opportunity to know more about the project and the new technologies that are being developed within SEA4VALUE. I think that students can learn a lot about a real challenge that our society is facing and how the research and the innovation deals with it. Therefore, I invite and encourage all university students to attend the seminar.