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Research and Development

The Group's research activities in the first half of 2011 chiefly consisted of the technological development of renewable sources, the development of environmental monitoring and control technologies, energy efficiency and optimisation of network management.

The main research projects were:

  • Energy Laboratory

    The area intended for laboratory construction has been prepared and planning documents together with additions necessary to outsource the work have been completed. The Energy Laboratory will be used to assess various technologies, from those already on the market to those still in the prototype phase, thanks to the advanced data-measurement and -acquisition network. The research 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 their metabolites. Of these, endocrine interference agents form a special crossover category. The presence of these substances in water is considered to be one of the most important environmental problems of the last decade. In 2007, Hera launched a research project aimed at identifying the major EPs in water systems (with particular reference to natural water destined for purification), developing analytical methods for determining their quantities, conducting surveys on the presence of these substances in the water systems involved, and evaluating the removal effectiveness of current treatment systems (purification and depuration). Partnerships have been formed with the Istituto Superiore di Sanit, the Istituto Mario Negri and the study group on "Interferenti endocrini e acque destinate al consumo umano" ("Endocrine interference agents and water intended for human consumption, or "EDinwater") sponsored by the Fondazione Amga. In 2010, the set of parameters to be monitored was defined, and a control plan put into effect. In 2011, a joint initiative began with the Politecnico di Milano to identify the best treatment technologies.

  • Automatic leak detection

    This project consists of looking at innovative systems for automatic leak detection, to be used in conjunction with the remote-metering system. A test site was set up in 2007, and tests in different environmental conditions were carried out. The initial test results were extremely interesting. In 2008, investigation techniques were refined with the creation of an automatic field acquisition system, the development of a statistical-analysis tool based on the MatLab platform and the creation of a leak-simulation tool. The tool was ready in 2009, when it was rolled out to customers together with the acquisition tools completed the previous year. The mass of data collected has been used to enable the Group to better characterise the phenomenon. In 2010, a tool was designed and produced to facilitate data acquisition at different connection points and in various operating conditions. In 2011, acquisition began at real connection points with various versions of the new tool.

  • Bio-Hydro

    The project proposes to develop an organic agro-zootechnical waste-disposal cycle consisting of hydrogen fermentation of at least one type of agro-zootechnical waste and methane co-digestion of the residue from this process with other agro-zootechnical waste and/or the organic portion of solid urban waste. The project is in association with Herambiente and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bologna and is jointly funded by the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policy. In 2010, work began on the characterisation of agro-zootechnical waste and various waste matrices were acquired, suitable for the hydrogen bio-conversion process and anaerobic co-digestion of the waste with hydrogen fermentation.
    In parallel, the University is developing bio-production tests and prototype reactor design.

  • Automatic plant management

    This project, produced in association with ENEA, involves the development of a system for automatic management of the main operating parameters of water-treatment plants. The system must maintain the process conditions of a given plant at maximum efficiency, depending on the composition of the waste water (depuration plants) or untreated water (potability treatment plants).
    In 2008, work began at the Calderara di Reno - Bologna depuration plant, chosen as a test site. In 2009, analysis and control instruments were installed at the site and field-data acquisition began.
    The data acquired in 2010 confirm what we knew about SBR systems and reveal new characteristics in terms of the quantities monitored, helping to differentiate between standard operation or malfunctions at the plant. In general, the theoretical application of automatic plant control has been demonstrated. In 2011, the second phase of the project began, involving the construction of prototype software to be used as a decision-making tool.

  • Modelling water-treatment plants

    This project involves the development of mathematical models intended for the hydraulic and process simulation of depuration plants. The aim is to acquire the instruments and know-how necessary to begin coordinating the mathematical modelling of integrated water-treatment plants. The project is in association with ENEA. In 2009, the preliminary work was carried out to produce a model of the sample site and to select calculation software from those commercially available. In 2010, at the end of the evaluation phase, software licences were acquired. The first half of 2011 saw the start of modelling activities within the Group, although the project is still in the pilot phase.

  • Increase in intellectual property

    This activity, which began in 2010, is continuing with the scouting and protection of new patentable ideas and enhancements to existing patents.

  • Energy recovery from water-treatment plants

    In 2010, the possibility of energy recovery from water-treatment plants was investigated, with a study of the technologies involved. An initial feasibility study was developed to recover energy from the Bologna depuration plant using a high-performance hydraulic screw developed by the Loccioni Group. In 2011, two other studies were in the development phase: the first concerns energy recovery from the mains water supply using in-pipe-turbine (IPT) or pump-as-turbine (PAT) systems; the second project involves heat recovery from mains water using low-enthalpy heat-pump systems.

  • Characterisation and analysis of polyethylene pipes

    Polyethylene pipes used for the mains water supply have a higher burst rate than pipelines made from other materials. To examine the causes of this in more detail, a project is under way to perform a critical analysis of burst pipes, to increase know-how about PE pipes, to provide basic criteria with which to classify the various types of burst pipe, to identify the principal causes and to design improvement plans.
    The project has been developed in collaboration with LyondellBasell, one of the world's leading manufacturers of polyolefins, and with the Plastics Testing Laboratory at the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano. In 2010, samples were collected along sections of pipeline which had burst and a visual analysis carried out of the samples taken. In 2011, laboratory tests began for precise fault characterisation, the results of which will be used to define action and improvement plans.

  • Study of water meters and "antifreeze" technologies

    In 2011, following extensive market research, experiments began at the R&D laboratory to test the strength and reliability of various types of meter and "antifreeze" technologies. A freeze test was carried out on a system connected to four meters, recreating the real-life situation of meters which are exposed to very low temperatures (<-10 C) for long periods of time and which, when they burst, must be immediately replaced. The study also includes the mathematical modelling of the phenomenon. The idea is to provide useful elements for a possible update of the supply specifications for those meters that are subject to these meteorological conditions, depending on the location and type of installation.