Photo by Christian Ove Carlsson

Recycle your wastewater with mathematics

Friday 08 Apr 16
by Rasmus-Hoejmark-Ravn


Xavier Flores Alsina
Senior Researcher
DTU Chemical Engineering
+4545 25 29 67


Krist V. Gernaey
DTU Chemical Engineering
+4545 25 29 70


Brit Bille Albrektsen
International Partnership Manager
Office for Study Programmes and Student Affairs
+4545 25 10 66

Funding and partners

The PROTEUS project was sponsored by Marie Curie Actions: International European Fellowships (IEF) for career development and hosted by the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) with extensive collaboration with other research centres, including:

  • Inside DTU (Department of Environmental Engineering)
  • In Europe (Lund University, Sweden / Catalan Institute of Water Research, Spain)
  • Outside Europe (University of Queensland, Australia / University of Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Specialized groups of the IWA (International Water Association) (physico-chemical framework, greenhouse gas emissions, benchmarking control strategies on wastewater treatment plants)

Outcomes: Software prototypes

The software is used for consultancy, research and it is further developed. Below are the prototypes and final users:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions (BSM2-GHG): Catalan Institute of Water Research (Spain), Lund Universitet (Sweden), University of Exeter (UK), Stockholm Water (Sweden) and IVL (Sweden)
  • Micro-pollutants (BSM1-MICRO): Cataland Institute of Water Research (Spain), Lund University (Sweden) and University of Lorraine (France)
  • Nutrient recovery (BSM1-pH / BSM2-PCM): Lund University (Sweden), University of Queensland (Australia), Josef Stefan Institute (Slovenia) University of Cape Town (South Africa), INRA (France), Bioentech (France), EAWG-ETH (Switzerland) and Veolia (France)

In Greek Mythology, Proteus is the god with the ability to change water. In the world of science, the PROTEUS project is all about the same. The mastermind behind it, Xavier Flores-Alsina, has proposed a new set of mathematical models that will assist process engineers to turn wastewater into a clean and sustainable supply of resources.

“Out of sight, out of mind”. The vision for wastewater treatment have largely revolved around these six words, but times are changing, as the increasing demands for water and energy push the scientific community to change its vision. Instead, when wastewater is seen as a valuable resource as it presents great promises:

Water can be reused to minimize impacts of exploiting new sources of supply. Nutrients, such as phosphorus, can be recovered in various forms for use in agricultural fertilizers. Energy, in the form of heat and electricity, can be extracted from organics in the wasterwater to offset the power demands of the treatment facility.

In this regard, Xavier Flores-Alsina, a former Marie Curie Research Fellow at DTU Chemical Engineering, has finished his development of a new set of mathematical models which describe exactly these resource recovery challenges. The name of his Marie Curie project was PROTEUS.

The models should be available for everyone

According to Xavier Flores-Alsina, the PROTEUS project will have a very positive impact within the water industry as engineering companies make extensive use of wastewater treatment models for design optimization and control of water treatment facilities.

The new set of models will help make these processes more efficient in terms of improving effluent quality, reducing energy consumption, increasing energy recovery and finally minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the model library offers great potential to a wide audience of professionals.

“It’s very important for me and the research group to make the models available in order to increase international exposure. We distribute these models to be used as decision support tools for water professionals, process managers and environmental engineers around the world”, says Xavier Flores-Alsina.

Important role in development and education

He expects that many of the new models will also be implemented by specialized software companies. The models will be integrated into software packages that will allow users to evaluate and explore new ways to operate wastewater treatment facilities.

In addition, the models will play an important role in education. According to Krist Gernaey, Head of the CAPEC-PROCESS Research Centre, Xavier Flores-Alsina’s research work has first of all demonstrated the growing importance of mathematical modelling and the use of chemical engineering methods and tools to the wastewater treatment field.

“By distributing the models resulting from the PROTEUS project, CAPEC-PROCESS has become one of the leading groups in this field. For the future, we expect Xavier to further develop this area and to establish a small research team within the centre with focus on resource recovery”, says Krist Gernaey.

A strong international collaboration made it possible

Xavier Flores-Alsina stresses that international collaboration was a key factor for the success of the PROTEUS project. During the development of the project, he had research stays at the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Cape Town in South Africa and also collaborated with Lund University and several Specialist Groups of the International Water Association (IWA).

In general, he feels that his international experiences have brought him far. In particular, they played a big role in 2013 when he got the exciting news that his PROTEUS project was awarded within the competitive Marie Curie Actions call for Intra-European Fellowships for career development.

“I think my strong international background and long history of collaborations with many different universities from different countries were crucial to get the grant. For example, all my publications involve at least three research groups and I did my PhD between the University of Girona in Spain, the University of Oxford in the UK and DTU in Denmark”, says Xavier Flores-Alsina.

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