Bioremediation is the use of living organisms to break down or remove toxins and other harmful substances from soil and water. Plants, in this case short rotation coppice (SRC) willow can also be used to manage large volumes of potentially damaging wastewater streams coming from inefficient Wastewater Treatment Works (WWTWs), certain industries (especially the food processing industry) and the leachate from landfill sites.
The treatment of wastewater in conventional WWTWs is highly effective and in modern works will produce an effluent which is non-damaging, when discharged into waterways. Large WWTWs are required to treat the municipal effluent from large towns and cities.
However, there are hundreds of small treatment works dealing with effluent in small rural settlements. Often they only serve a small number of people equivalents and would be uneconomic to upgrade. It is therefore essential to develop cost effective, environmentally friendly, sustainable approaches to wastewater management appropriate to rural communities.
The use of fast growing woody plants for the bioremediation of wastewater is a potentially useful approach to this problem of managing wastewater streams and effluents. In addition the willow can be harvested chipped and dried as fuel for biomass boilers so giving a carbon neutral renewable energy source.
The ANSWER project
The ANSWER (Agricultural Need for Sustainable Willow Effluent Recycling) project was part-financed by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund through the INTERREG IVA Cross-border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body. The project ran from 2010 to 2014. The primary objective was to develop the use of Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) willow for the bioremediation of a range of effluents including municipal wastewater, landfill leachates and industrial effluents.
The project was a cross-border collaboration with 7 partners- AFBI, NI Water, Monaghan County Council, Donegal County Council, South-West College, IT Sligo, and Teagasc. AFBI was the lead partner on this project, part funded by the EU Regional Development Fund. The close-out event was held at the Armagh City Hotel on 16th October 2014 and included presentations from all the partners on their experiences of the project, along with publication of 2 documents: the Current Knowledge and a Project Report, both available to download here: