Complete valorization of various wastes and effluents, with significant organic content, remains a great challenge in the pursuit of a circular economy. The approach based on anaerobic fermentation, leading to valuable biogas production, has been broadly accepted and employed as an attractive processing scheme. However, despite notable research efforts, complete valorization of the digestates (involving recovery of nutrients/by-products and full recycling/reuse of treated water) requires additional work for sustainable process development. This study aims to make a contribution in this direction by demonstrating a systematic methodology for valorizing the liquid digestate. The proposed membrane-based processing scheme involves UF-membrane pretreatment of the liquid digestate (for sludge separation) and subsequent NF/RO membrane treatment for reuse/recycling of the permeate; the concentrate, enriched in "nutrients" (phosphate and ammonium compounds), can be utilized for soil fertilization, with further conditioning/processing. By performing targeted laboratory experiments and advanced simulations, the membrane-based process was developed to a relatively high technology-readiness level, including a pilot unit design/construction and preliminary testing with satisfactory results. Through pilot testing in industrial environment, further process development and optimization will be pursued, towards practical applications. The demonstrated methodology is also considered appropriate for systematic development of membrane-based processes to valorize/treat a variety of similar effluents.
Keywords: P, N nutrients; anaerobic fermentation; liquid digestate valorization; membrane process treatment; water recycling.