Sustainable Electrochemical Reduction of contaminants of emerging concern and Pathogens in WWTP effluent for Irrigation of Crops

SERPIC will develop an integral technology, based on a multi-barrier approach, to treat the effluents of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to maximise the reduction of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs).

A membrane nanofiltration (NF) technology will be applied to reduce CECs in its permeate stream by at least 90 % while retaining the nutrients. A residual disinfection using chlorine dioxide produced electrochemically will be added to the stream used for crops irrigation (Route A). The CECs in the polluted concentrate (retentate) stream will be reduced by at least 80 % by light driven electro-chemical oxidation. When discharged into the aquatic system (route B), it will contribute to the quality improvement of the surface water body.

A prototype treatment plant will be set-up and evaluated for irrigation in long-term tests with the help of agricultural test pots. A review investigation of CECs spread will be performed at four regional showcases in Europe and Africa. It will include a detailed assessment of the individual situation and surrounding condition. Transfer concepts will be developed to transfer the results of the treatment technology to other regions, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

SERPIC reduces micropollutants from the water generated by wastewater treatment plants and makes it available for irrigation.
© Fraunhofer IST
SERPIC reduces micropollutants from the water generated by wastewater treatment plants and makes it available for irrigation.

SERPIC will develop an integral technology, based on a multi-barrier approach, to treat the effluents of wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) to maximise the reduction of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs).

Goal and objectives

The overall aim of the SERPIC project is to investigate and minimise the spread of CECs and antimicrobial resistant bacteria/antibiotic resistance genes (ARB/ARG) within the water cycle from households and industries to WWTPs effluents, and afterwards via irrigation into the food chain, into soil and groundwater and into river basins, estuaries, coastal areas, and oceans with a focus on additional water sources for food production.


Work packages


Sources, spread and transformation

The objective of this WP is to select six target CECs appropriately and to analyse their occurrence, reduction and accumulation in the process chain. The selection of the six target compounds, one ARB, one ARG and four organic compounds (CECs in general), will be based on their occurrence in the water cycle (wastewater, treated effluent and surface water), persistence during treatment, bioaccumulation and toxicity to health and environment of the four showcases (IT, ES, PT and SA).

Treatment technology and prototype

This work package aims to develop and validate our technology for treating the effluents to reduce CECs. With the full development of the SERPIC prototype plant and a field test (including two full crop growth cycles), this work package will also provide the necessary experimental data to understand how CECs are transformed during treatment and spread in the environment and in crops (WP1), how they can be managed in the optimum way, how sustainable are the solutions under development, helping in the design of better policy and decision-making procedures (WP4).

Chlorine dioxide and Peroxosulfates will be produced electrochemically using diamond anodes from IST and different novel cell approaches. We will build-up a complete prototype plant at UCLM, sized for the treatment of 0.5 m3 water per day, of  which 30-70 % will be permeate for irrigation. The plant will be powered by PV solar panels, with a dedicated energy management from SolarSpring.

Finally, the plant will be used in a field test with the help of a soil remediation plant that will be arranged for the sequential production of e.g. carrots or potatoes. An exhaustive characterization of the water, soil and crops will be made with the analytical procedures developed in work package 1.

Transfer strategies

The project will elaborate the technology from TRL4 for the technology modules to TRL5 for the system solution. The objective of WP3 is to develop transfer strategies for other regions of the world to multiply the effects of the project results. With life cycle assessment and life cycle costing, we will investigate the situation concerning energy, costs, and environmental impact of the SERPIC system to achieve essential basic data and to assess the applicability of the SERPIC system in the four showcase regions. Afterwards, we will develop comprehensive strategies to transfer the results to the showcase regions Italy, Spain, Portugal and South Africa and beyond to countries with the same needs, especially low- and middle-income countries. The individual boundary conditions of these regions like WWTP effluent quality, water scarcity, needs of farmers, regulatory limits, economic situation and solar radiation will be taken into account. Finally, we will prepare a vademecum: a set of proposals on the basis of the country needs and the best practices from our results, reflecting the concept of fit-for-purposes.

Education, communication, exloitation

To achieve the adoption of the project results by other parties and stakeholders, this WP has a first objective to ensure that the results will reach the relevant academic, economical and societal communities. The second objective is to ensure that the expected impacts to society and environment will be finally achieved. Therefore, we will plan and implement a dedicated set of communication actions to disseminate the results to the relevant academic, economical and societal communities. The consortium will identify interesting parties for joint follow-up activities. The stakeholder group from business comprises waste water treatment plant provider, manufacturer of water treatment technology and corresponding components, and end-users like farmers, farmer associations and water providers. European, African and national channels will be taken into account.

An exploitation plan will be elaborated that will comprise detailed actions within the project duration as well as potential actions beyond the project duration until the SERPIC system will be finally applied at TRL9. We will elaborate recommendations that will be forwarded to organisations like policy makers, regulatory authorities and standardisation bodies. Thus, WP3 and WP4 are the pre-requisites that the efforts and funding will finally create the envisaged benefits for society and environment.


The objectives of this work package are to create a team work environment for best possible results, to ensure a smooth running of the project and to fulfil all contractual tasks.



  • ERA-NET Aquatic Pollutants
  • European Commission
  • Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, Germany
  • Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca, Italy
  • Agencia Estatal de Investigación, Spain
  • Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal
  • Norges forskningsråd, Norway
  • Water Research Commission, South Africa