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Research projects

The Hera Group's research activities in 2011 chiefly concerned the technological development of renewable sources, the development of environmental monitoring and control technologies, energy efficiency, optimisation of the network management and waste management services. Particular focus was placed on applied research on systems for the production of energy from renewable resources through the launch of work for the creation of the Hera Group Laboratory for Energy (Hlab).At the end of 2011, 11 patents for inventions and utility models were held, 7 pending validation of which 4 filed during the year. Leading research projects were:

  • Laboratory per l'Energia "Hlab" - The Energy Lab. It is an experimental centre for research applied on technologies for the production and use of energy from renewable and alternative sources, whose construction was started in November 2011 at the Hera Forlė premises. Conclusion of work is envisaged for the end of 2012. The Laboratory will make it possible to assess different technologies, starting from those available on the market and those still in the prototype stage, thanks to an advanced measurement and data acquisition network. Focus will be on gauging the effective efficiency and evolution of the same over time. Another significant aspect will concern the identification and prevention of running problems and the assessment of the real management costs. Initially, the Laboratory will have a photovoltaic section and a "supply chain" linked to the production, storage and use of hydrogen. The experimental work will be managed in collaboration with the University of Bologna.
  • Emerging Pollutants. The term "Emerging Pollutants" (EP) refers to various biologically active substances of anthropic origin such as personal care products, medicines, psychoactive substances associated with drug addiction and their metabolites. One particular category that runs across the above categories is endocrine disruptors. The presence of such substances in water is considered one of the most significant environmental issues of the past decade. In 2007, Hera began a research project designed to identify the primary emerging pollutants in water systems (with particular attention on drinking water), to improve analytical methods for quantitative determination, to carry out surveys on the presence of these substances in the pertinent water systems and evaluate the effectiveness of removal from the current treatment systems (water treatment and purification). Collaborations were started with the Italian Institute of Health, the Mario Negri Institute and the study group called "Endocrine disruptors and water intended for human consumption" (EDinwater) promoted by the Amga Foundation of Genoa. In 2010, the set of parameters to be monitored was defined and a control plan was implemented. During 2011, collaboration was started with Milan Polytechnic so as to assess the best treatment technologies in the water treatment processes.
  • Automatic Leakage Detection. The project consists of studying innovative systems for automatically locating water leaks, to be used with a remote reading system. A test site was set up in 2007, and tests in different environmental conditions were carried out. In 2008, the survey techniques were refined through the creation of a device for automatic acquisition of samples from the field, the development of an instrument for statistical analysis and the design of a device that simulates water leaks, achieved in 2009 and installed with real users. In 2010, a device that makes it possible to easily acquire data in different connections and under different operating conditions was designed and built. Acquisitions were made in various areas during 2011, making it possible to further streamline the analysis algorithm of the reports. Experimentation will continue in 2012 with the comparison between the current sensor (accelerometer) and an innovative one for this type of application (hydrophone).
  • Bio-Hydro. This project aims to develop a cycle for the disposal of organic waste from the agricultural and livestock sector which consists of fermentation using hydrogen of at least one type of agricultural-livestock waste and the co-digestion using methane of the residue from this process with other agricultural and livestock waste and/or the organic portion of solid municipal waste. The project is carried out in collaboration with Herambiente and the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Bologna while it is co-financed by the Ministry for Agriculture and Forest Policy. In 2010, initial work was carried out for the characterisation of agricultural-livestock waste and different waste matrices were acquired, to be used in the hydrogen-based bio-conversion process and anaerobic co-digestion of the effluent from hydrogen-based fermentation. During 2011, activities were launched for the assessment of the use of hydrogen produced biologically for the feeding of fuel cells and the assessment of the use of solid residues from combined bio-production of hydrogen and methane as compost.
  • Automatic Plant Management. This project, in collaboration with ENEA, provides for the development of a system for the automatic management of the main operating parameters of the water service plants. The system must maintain the process conditions of a specific plant in a state of maximum efficiency, and depending on the composition of the waste water (waste water treatment plants) or raw water (treatment plant). In 2009, the instruments for analysis and control were installed at the test site of Calderara di Reno (BO) and the data was collected from the field. The data acquired during 2010 validates prior knowledge on continuous flow waste water treatment systems, and identifies the existence of new characteristic points in the signals related to the monitored quantities, with the possibility of identifying characteristic or anomalous operation in the plant. In general, the applicability of automatic control to full scale plants was demonstrated. During 2011, the second stage of the project was launched, with the aim of developing a prototype system in the three-year period.
  • Water Cycle Plant Modelling. The project, carried out in collaboration with ENEA, provides for the development of mathematical models for the hydraulic and process simulation of treatment plants. The objective consists of acquiring the instruments and the know-how necessary to launch the coordination of the mathematical modelling of the water service plants for the Group. In 2009, the preliminary activities were carried out for the development of the sample site model and the selection of the calculation software from among the software available on the market. In 2010, at the end of the evaluation work, the software licenses were acquired. 2011 saw the launch of modelling activities within the Group, still in the experimental stages.
  • Energy recovery in water service plants. A number of assessments were started up in 2010 on the possibility and the technologies for carrying out energy recovery in the water service plants. A first feasibility study was developed to perform energy recovery work within the Bologna purification plant through high performance volutes. During 2011, another two studies were launched: the first concerns energy recovery in aqueduct networks by means of "In Pipe Turbine" (IPT) or "Pump As Turbine" (PAT) systems; the second project concerns the recovery of thermal energy from aqueduct networks by means of systems with low enthalpy heat pumps.
  • Characterisation and analysis of polyethylene pipes in operation. Polyethylene water pipes are characterised by a failure rate higher than that of pipes made of other materials. To study the causes of this situation in greater depth, a project was launched for a critical analysis of failures, with the goal of increasing know-how on such pipes, providing simple criteria to classify the different types of failures, identifying the main causes and defining improvement plans. The project is developed in collaboration with LyondellBasell, one of the world's leading polyolefin manufacturers, and with the Plastic Material Testing Laboratory Foundation of the Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering Department of Milan Polytechnic. In 2010, samples were collected from segments of pipes with breakages and the sampled specimens were visually analysed, and the statistical analysis of the failures and laboratory tests was also started. Laboratory analysis was launched in 2011 for the accurate characterisation of the breakages, whose results will form the basis for the definition of Improvement Plans and Action. Presentation of the results of this study is envisaged during the WaterLossEurope 2012 event, the largest international event organised by the IWA on the subject of water losses.
  • Anti-freezing water meters. During 2011, the Hera Research & Development unit designed and carried out a series of tests for checking the possibility of identifying meters and devices which can reduce the case histories of breakages affecting water meters under unfavourable weather conditions. The study, which will end in 2012, has already made it possible to identify the type of meters normally available on the market which are less vulnerable to freezing conditions than those usually installed.

Hera invests in innovation and research

In 2011, the envisaged studies continued; they pertained to the agreement signed in September 2009 between Hera, the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and the Alma Mater Foundation in Bologna, which calls for funding of Euro 248 thousand in 4 years by the Group. Through awards, a doctorate scholarship and funding for new research, education is promoted for the attainment of high levels of technical-scientific knowledge and the development of applied research within the Department of Engineering of Modena. During 2011, implementation of the studies continued for the improvement of the quality and safety of the electricity distribution networks, as carried out in previous years, for improving the operation of electrical and thermal generation plants and fume purification systems in waste-to-energy plants. All the thermodynamic simulations for the finalisation of the combined heat cycle layout between waste-to-energy plant and thermoelectric power station, will be carried out in 2012.
In order to improve the fume purification systems of the waste-to-energy plants, steps were taken to supplement the previous studies into mercury and acid gases, analyzing both the process and plant figures relating to the pollutants considered. Estimates were made on the quantity of mercury present in the incinerated waste and a study was carried out on the impact on the emission from the incineration of objects which are typically sources of mercury in municipal waste. Other fume purification systems will be looked at in depth in 2012, as an alternative to the dry purification system.
This agreement joins those already existing with DIEM (Dipartimento di Ingegneria delle Costruzioni Meccaniche Nucleari Aeronautiche e di Metallurgia - Department of Engineering for Mechanical, Nuclear, Aeronautical and Metallurgical Constructions) of the University of Bologna, ENEA and Milan Polytechnic. During 2010 and 2011, the DIEM worked together in the executive design of the Energy Laboratory, work on which was started up at the end of 2011 in Forlė. A contract has been entered into with Milan Polytechnic, involving Hera's commitment for Euro 45,000, relating to a research project in the field of technologies and processes for the removal of emerging contaminants in water intended for human consumption.
In conclusion, collaboration has taken place with the CIRI (Centro Interdipartimentale di Ricerca Industriale Edilizia e Costruzioni) and DICAM (Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Ambientale e dei Materiali), both at University of Bologna. These agreements, amounting in total to Euro 14,000, concern the study of advanced methods for the assessment and control of water losses and the recovery and production of energy in the aqueduct systems.