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Cycle 6 (2017 Deadline)

Evaluation of algal treatment options for olive mill wastewater to produce energy and biofertilizer 

PI: Sami Sayadi,, Center of Biotechnology of Sfax, Tunisia
U.S. Partners: Anthony Siccardi, Texas A&M University and Walter Mulbry, USDA/ARS
Project dates: December 2017 - November 2020

Project Overview:

The conventional olive mill wastewater (OMW) treatment methods adopted in Tunisia are either costly or ineffective,causing environmental pollution. This project is aimed at developing an eco-friendly and cost-effective microalgal-based process for olive mill waste treatment and recycling. Such a process should result in the production of (1) treated and reusable OMW for ferti-irrigation use, contributing to resolving the water scarcity problem; (2) renewable biomass useful for clean energy production, particularly bio gas; and (3) bio-fertilizers for agricultural use, using the process by-products, bio char and sludge.

The goal of this project is to develop an eco-friendly technology for creating a closed loop process with zero waste. It encompasses several disciplines and couples physical and biological technologies to achieve the target objectives, including pyrolysis, physical adsorption, micro algae cultivation with OMW treatment and CO2 mitigation, anaerobic digestion, and composting. The project will also foster linkages among the R&D sector (universities and research institutes) with enterprises involved in waste production (farms and olive mills), enterprises producing devices necessary for treatments, enterprises interested in the use of by-products, and farmers. This approach will create a cooperative network for reducing agricultural waste impacts on the environment, exchanging know-how and market intelligence, and developing research capacity and new markets. In particular, the enterprises will be involved in the demonstration activities of proposed technologies. Through the project, valuable resources that are not currently utilized will be exploited and thus will generate local added value in Tunisia. Such an integrated eco-technology should facilitate the production of biogas from the produced micro-algal biomass for electrical and heat energy generation, as well as biodiesel production, the extraction of high-added-value molecules for cosmetics and nutraceutical applications, nutrient recovery in the form of sludge and biochar for soil amendments, and treated OMW for ferti-irrigation use. This eco-technology will also improve the quality of life for local residents living near the OMW discharge area by reducing the environmental footprint of the existing evaporation ponds, in particular reducing populations of mosquitoes and noxious odors from the ponds.

Beyond the technological aspects, the project will also involve the collection and assessment of data to support decision-makers for the promotion of sound strategies and best practices for social, economic, and legislative measures at the regional and national levels regarding agricultural waste management. It is expected to generate business opportunities and create jobs in small and innovative companies for commercializing the process outcomes. The research team will also strive to enhance the impacts of the project by organizing roundtables and training workshops for farmers to help them better exploit the anticipated research results with regard to ferti-irrigation and soil fertilization.

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