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LIFE Nirvana: innovation and sustainability, keys to denitrify groundwater  

The European LIFE Nirvana project faces its final stage and brings together its stakeholders at a conference in Murcia to present its progress. The initiative, led by Cetaqua Andalucía with the participation of Aquatec and Aguas de Murcia, and co-funded by the European Commission’s LIFE Programme, arose from the need to seek sustainable solutions that contribute to reducing nitrate pollution of groundwater.

One of the main challenges in terms of groundwater is to be able to reduce the high concentration of nitrates. That is why different solutions have been developed in recent decades to treat water contaminated by this compound without the expected success due to their high energy consumption or waste generation. This scenario led to the LIFE Nirvana project.

“LIFE Nirvana aims to demonstrate a technology that needs less energy, so emits less CO2 into the atmosphere; it has a lower cost and doesn’t generate waste”, explains Damián Sánchez, project manager of Cetaqua’s Water Resources Management area and head of the project. 

This technology, capable of reducing the concentration of nitrates in situ and in a sustainable way, was developed with this marked objective in mind. The fact that this groundwater bioremediation technique is applied in the aquifer considerably reduces both CO2 emissions and the energy and economic cost of this activity. 

Two years after its implementation, the LIFE Nirvana partners met to share the results of this technology, whose pilot is located in the Vega del Segura aquifer in Murcia and is managed by Aguas de Murcia. During the conference, the main stakeholders of this project addressed all the attendees so they could learn more about this technology. 

The solution proposed by the LIFE Nirvana project, explained Damián Sánchez, consists of injecting zero-valent iron nanoparticles into aquifers contaminated by nitrates. These particles, in combination with organic matter, have the ability to transform nitrate into nitrogen gas and convert organochlorine pesticides into biodegradable compounds. 

“The aim is to make available wells which are currently not in use because the concentration of nitrates exceeds the limits established by law and to carry out denitrification in situ so that the appropriate treatments can then achieve to make the water drinkable and make it available to the public”, commented Alberto Barrera, head of Hydrogeological Consultancy, Product and Business Development at Aquatec, a company of the Agbar Group, during his speech. 

For her part, Eva Mena, leader of Innovation at Aguas de Murcia (EMUASA), explained how this pilot project works: “For the operation, we have injection wells and several observation points, which allow us to inject the nanoparticles and monitor them by taking water samples and analyzing them afterwards”.

The event also included the intervention of José Luis García Aróstegui, senior scientist at the Spanish Geological and Mining Institute (IGME-CSIC), who ended the day with his presentation of the problems associated with nitrate pollution in the Campo de Cartagena. Afterwards, all the guests had the opportunity to visit the pilot plant in La Vega del Segura (Zarandona), where they could see first-hand how this innovative technology is being applied at the pilot site.

LIFE Nirvana, an international project to denitrify aquifers efficiently and sustainably

LIFE Nirvana, co-funded by the European Commission’s LIFE programme, is coordinated by Cetaqua Andalucía, a public-private collaboration model created to guarantee the sustainability and efficiency of the integral water cycle, taking into account territorial needs. 

The project partners are Aguas de Murcia (EMUASA), the Municipal Water and Sanitation Company of Murcia, which manages the urban water cycle throughout its municipal district, and AQUATEC, a water and environmental technology company of the Agbar Group that provides consultancy services, design, comprehensive project development, installation and implementation of advanced solutions for the optimisation of the processes of the integral water cycle and the conservation of the environment.