Following the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000, it was expected that good ecological status would be achieved for all surface, ground and coastal waters by December 2015. However, in 2015 the European Environment Agency reported that only 53% of freshwater bodies would achieve good ecological status compared with 43% in 2009. Currently more than 40% of rivers and coastal water bodies are affected by diffuse pollution from agriculture, while 20-25% are subject to point source pollution, such as from industrial facilities, sewage systems and wastewater treatment plants.
Environmental legislation driven by the WFD and other EU policy requires improvements in water quality and effluent discharged to the water environment. The need to comply with these requirements has created a demand among regulatory bodies throughout Europe for frequent monitoring, both temporally and spatially. There has been an increased global focus towards early detection of pollution incidents and the identification and mitigation of historical pollution, which not only presents a financial cost for remediation, but risks for ecosystem health and sustainability, and human health and well-being.
LIFE EcoSens Aquamonitrix brings a new water quality monitoring solution to market, one that can cost-effectively meet the WFD's requirements for frequent monitoring of water quality. The device could carry out near continuous analysis of water sources, monitoring the indicators of water quality including nutrients, pH, chemical oxygen demand and suspended solids.
Prototypes of the portable system would be manufactured and tested in 11 operational environments. The goal was to provide remote access to the device and to monitoring results. Results obtained about efficient power consumption allow longer deployment periods and reduced need for maintenance. The project assessed the device performance from an environmental and economic point of view using lifecycle analysis and lifecycle cost calculations. Results were used to draft a business plan to ensure market penetration.
This affordable technology enables more frequent and accurate water quality monitoring to be undertaken, simplify water management decision-making and make it easier to comply with regulations. This will support the implementation of the WFD and a raft of related EU policy, including directives on nitrates, drinking water, bathing water, groundwater, urban wastewater treatment, floods, marine strategy, habitats and industrial emissions.
The EcoSens Aquamonitrix project achieved its main objective of demonstrating a cost-effective, portable, water monitoring sensor. It also substantially fulfilled its supporting objectives of ensuring efficient power consumption to enable longer deployment periods, diminishing maintenance needs, and providing an efficient and integrated water resource management solution for monitoring multiple water contaminants. Though further development is ongoing to optimise the instrument's power supply, substantial improvements in power efficiency have already been made.
The project team manufactured, deployed and validated 42 water quality sensor prototypes across 13 operational environments; optimised these instrument following deployment; developing a manufacturing plan for commercialisation; and formulated a business plan for market penetration in Europe (and beyond) which will lead to job creation. In addition, they completed life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) for the sensors, and communicated and disseminated project findings to stakeholders to encourage uptake.
A key measure of the project’s success was that the EcoSens Aquamonitrix instrument was officially launched on the market on 24 March 2021. It was launched in the UK, France and Spain in year 1, with international sales and the rest of Europe following in year 2 and beyond. The launch focussed on four key applications, namely, waste water treatment plants (WWTPs), catchment monitoring, industrial monitoring, and aquaculture. Other applications are being developed.
Long-term environmental benefits were forecast in collaboration with the WWTPs where the technology was deployed. These observations include improved water quality, reduced energy and chemical use, and associated cost savings. Further trials are ongoing with WWTPs and for catchment monitoring, as well as with water companies. The widespread use of the technology has the potential to considerably improve water quality.
Socio-economic benefits at project end included: 8 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff employed and a further 42 FTE jobs forecast after five years; and €1.6 million savings/year, extrapolated from the WWTP demonstrations.
The EcoSens Aquamonitrix project was noted for its technical innovation, its high potential for replication, and its policy relevance. It supports the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), and other EU and national policy related to water quality. The project team made key recommendations for policymakers on water and wastewater management, which were particularly timely with respect to the completion of the public consultation on the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive revision.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).