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Research and Development

Hera Group's research activities in 2010 chiefly concerned the technological development of renewable sources, the development of environmental monitoring and control technologies, energy efficiency, and optimisation of the network management. Research applied to systems producing energy from renewable sources was given particular emphasis, through a project designed by the Energy Laboratory, which will be implemented in 2011.

An activity involving disclosure and internal awareness on issues involving intellectual property, with particular emphasis on patents for inventions and usage methods also began.

Leading research projects were:

  • Energy Laboratory

    In 2010, the executive plan for the Energy Laboratory was finalised. It calls for an experimental centre for applied research on energy production technologies from renewable and alternative sources, which will be opened in 2011 in Forl. The Energy Laboratory will evaluate various technologies, from those already available on the market to prototypes, with the help of an advanced network for measuring and acquiring data. The experimental activities will be managed in collaboration with the University of Bologna.

  • Emerging Pollutants Project

    The term “Emerging Pollutants” (EP) means various biologically active substances of anthropic origin such as personal care products, medicines, psychoactive substances associated with drug addiction, and the relevant metabolites. Interfering endocrines is an unusual and transversal category compared to those listed above. The presence of these substances in the water is considered to be one of the most important environmental problems of the last decade. In 2007, Hera began research focused on identifying the main emerging pollutants in water systems (with particular emphasis on natural water that undergo purification), setting up analytical methods for quantifying the latter and investigating the presence of these substances in the water systems in question, assessing the effectiveness of the current treatment systems’ removal abilities (purification and potabilization). Collaborations were established with the Italian Institute of Health, the Mario Negri Institute and the study group “Interfering endocrines and water intended for human consumption” (Edinwater) promoted by the AMGA Foundation. In 2010 a set of parameters to monitor was set up and a control plan was instituted.

  • Environmental Catalysis Project

    The project, started in 2007 in collaboration of the University of Bologna and with the participation of the Italian Institute of Health, envisages reviewing the use of traditional catalytic converters used to abate NOx emissions and dioxins. During 2007, several commercial catalytic converters were analysed with outstanding results, especially for those used on the Group's plants. During 2008, a new filter prototype was designed and plans were made for detailed sampling and analysis of emissions by means of analyses by Group laboratories in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Health. Sampling began in 2009 at the new waste-to-energy plant in Forl.

    At the same time, a study was performed on a catalytic converter used by the Group, with promising results.

    In 2010, the Italian Institute of Health continues its analyses of the data collected.

  • Bio-Hydro Project

    The project aims to develop a disposal cycle for organic waste from the agricultural-livestock sector consisting of the hydrogen fermentation of certain types of agricultural-livestock waste, and in the methane co-digestion of residuals for this process with other agricultural-livestock waste and/or the organic separation of solid urban waste. The project was carried out in collaboration with Herambiente and the engineering faculty at the University of Bologna and was co-financed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Forests. In 2010, the initial activities related to capturing agricultural-livestock waste were launched while various waste matrices were acquired that are appropriate for the bioconversion to hydrogen process and the anaerobic co-digestion of the effluent from the hydrogen fermentation.

    Concurrently, the university is continuing with the bio-production tests and the designing of prototype reactors.

  • Automatic Plant Operation Project

    The project, developed in cooperation with ENEA, involves the development of a system for the automatic management of the main function parameters in the water supply service plants. The system shall maintain the process conditions of a specified plant within its maximum efficiency, based on the composition of the incoming wastewater (purifiers) or of the incoming raw water (potability treatment plants).

    In 2008 the works at the Calderara di Reno (Bologna) treatment plant, selected as the test site, were begun. In 2009, the analysis and control tools were installed at the site and field data acquisition was initiated.

    The data collected in 2010 validate the knowledge gained on SBR systems and identify the existence of new characteristic points in the signals relating to the volumes monitored, with the possibility of identifying characteristic or irregular plant operations. In general, the theoretical applicability of automatic plant control was proven on a real scale.

  • Modelling Project for Plants of the Water Cycle

    The project expects to develop mathematical models for the purpose of hydraulic and process simulation of purification plants. The objective is to acquire the tools and know-how needed to coordinate mathematical modeling of the plants of the Integrated Water Cycle. The project is being carried out in collaboration with ENEA. In 2009, preliminary activities to develop a model of the sample site and to select off-the-shelf calculation software were performed. In 2010, the software licenses were purchased upon completion of the valuation activities. The modeling activity within the Group will begin in 2011.

  • Optimizing Intellectual Property

    The project intends to make efficient use of the intellectual property within the company with particular reference to patents for inventions and utility models. These activities involve scouting and the protection of new patentable ideas and the optimisation of existing patents.

  • Energy Recovery in Water Service Plants

    In 2010, several assessments on the possibility of recovering energy in water service plants and the related technology were initiated. An initial feasibility study was developed in order to recover energy within the Bologna purification plant using high yield hydraulic screws developed by the Loccioni Group.

  • Characterisation and Analysis of the Polyethylene Pipes During the Year

    The polyethylene water network pipes were affected by breakage that was traditionally higher than the breakage of other materials. In order to investigate the causes of this situation, a project was started to carry out a critical analysis of the breakages, improve the know how on PE pipes, provide simple criteria with which to classify the various types of breakage, identify the major causes and define plans for improvement.

    The project is developed with LyondellBasell, one of the major producers of polyethylene globally and the Foundation Laboratory for Testing of Plastics of the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering of the Milan Polytechnic University. In 2010, samples of portions of pipes on which breakage had occurred were collected and visually analysed and the laboratory and statistical analyses were begun.