Future-oriented Technologies and Concepts for an Energy-efficient and Resource-saving Water Management (ERWAS)

Involved project parties

Map of the involved project parties

The BMBF funding measure ERWAS

Future-oriented Technologies and Concepts for an Energy-efficient and Resource-saving Water Management

Background and objectives

Water is a precondition and basis for all life on our planet. Everyone has the right to proper and clean drinking water and sanitation (UN resolution 64/292). In order to secure this basic right, over the past 150 years the water management sector has created the largest infrastructure system of our modern industrial society for the supply of drinking water and disposal of wastewater. The conservation, further development and in particular the operation of these systems requires significant material and other resources. One of the most important resources here is energy.

Without energy, no water management plant can be operated. The existing German facilities for public water supply and wastewater treatment together consume 6.6 TWh of electrical energy per year, which is equivalent to the annual electricity requirement of about 1.6 million four-person households. Here, the wastewater treatment plants with 4.2 TWh per year are the largest electricity consumers in the municipal sector. They have higher power requirements than, for example, schools or street lighting. Through energy-saving measures and increased efficiency there is an estimated savings potential here of up to 25% of this electricity consumption.

But water can do more! It helps provide energy in the form of electricity, heat and fuels. For thousands of years the power of water has been used to get around and to generate mechanical energy. And also the modern facilities for the supply of drinking water and wastewater disposal offer great potential for covering their own requirements for electricity, heating/cooling and fuels from their own sources. In addition, the water management facilities provide many opportunities to support a future energy infrastructure based on renewable energies, for example through load management which is interconnected with the electricity grid.

However, major efforts are still needed to exploit the potential to reduce energy consumption, to increase efficiency, and to use and further develop the possibilities of internal power supply. This is where the funding programme “Future-oriented Technologies and Concepts for an Energy-efficient and Resource-saving Water Management (ERWAS)” of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) kicks in. As part of the funding measure, new possibilities are to be explored for optimising water management facilities with regard to their energy balance and the associated use of resources. Furthermore, it is to be examined how water management facilities can be intelligently integrated into the water and energy infrastructure of the future. Above all, projects are to be supported which, on completion of the research activity, promise timely and efficient implementation in the operational practice of the water supply and wastewater disposal plants.

Data on the funding measure ERWAS

  • Running time: 11/2013 to 10/2017

  • Funding volume: 28 million Euros

  • 12 joint research projects with a total of 67 partners

The Joint Research Projects

Within the framework of the ERWAS-funding measure, the BMBF is supporting twelve joint research projects with more than eighty partners from science and practice. Approaches to solutions for a more efficient and economical use of energy are to be developed, and ways smoothed to making better use of existing resources for generating energy in the water management sector. In order to ensure the transfer of the project results into practice and to align the research and development work to the needs of users, stakeholders from science, business as well as from the municipalities and states work together in all joint research projects. A major focus of the projects funded is on the development of new concepts for the interaction between the drinking water, wastewater and energy sectors. Examples are provided by the use of the load management potential and the energy storage capabilities of the water management sector for the future energy systems. Here, among other things, research is to be carried out into the extent to which water management facilities will be able to play a balancing role as an energy source or sink given the more fluctuating electricity supply from renewable sources (wind and solar) in future. Furthermore, innovative methods of energy production and energy conversion in water management facilities are to be developed, along with the optimised power generation in microbial fuel cells or the conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen into methanol. New ways to improve exploitation of the energy potentials in sewage sludge with simultaneous utilisation of the resources contained in wastewater, such as phosphorus are also a priority. In several joint research projects, using the energy potential in the water supply plants is in the foreground. A thematic priority here is in the area of ​​process optimisation. Another research topic is the energy optimisation of future systems for the elimination of trace substances.

Thematic priorities

Increasing energy efficiency – energy generation in the wastewater area

  • Technology modules for energy optimisation

  • Regional material flows/material recycling

  • Elimination of trace substances

  • Further development of biofuel cells

  • Coupling with energy networks /use of load management potentials

Energetic optimisation of water supply systems

  • Energy-efficient operational management and planning

  • Energy generation/recovery

  • Coupling with energy networks/use of load management potentials