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The water saving it is a theme that every inhabitant of the planet must begin to address. Because fresh water is a scarce resource and by using it well it is preserved. Today, the withdrawal of water is mainly linked to the production of food, which is rapidly increasing globally (the message of EXPO Milano). For this reason the challenge of the water saving consists precisely in minimizing the use of this resource in the production of food, up to the complete recycling of the water used in agro-industry.
Some EXPO pavilions give an idea of how many countries, starting with those in which water is a critical resource, are working on water saving in soil cultivation. That of the future will be agriculture capable of minimizing the use of water by aiming at eliminating waste, and reusing it when possible. Therefore agriculture is very different from today's agriculture which, according to FAO data, absorbs 70% of all the water available on the planet for crops and livestock, with peaks of 95% in developing countries. In Italy, ISTAT data, 11 billion cubic meters of water are used to irrigate 2.4 million hectares of agricultural land.
With the European framework directive on water 2000/60, Europe has launched the 'fit for use' vision (using water in quantities not exceeding the minimum required for its use) and major research centers are working on solutions to reduce the environmental impact of food, especially from the water point of view, without lowering the quality standard of the product.In Italy, ENEA has issued some patents for water saving in the agri-food chain.
Two of these patents are designed to reduce the polluting power of waste water from oil plants, due to the presence of polyphenols. The first is capable of producing syngas, a gaseous mixture containing CO2, hydrogen and methane. The second patent, based on separative membrane technologies, extracts the pollutants of vegetation water, the polyphenols in fact, to reuse them in the food and cosmetic industries as antioxidants and antibacterials. What remains is demineralized water, no longer polluting, which re-enters the circulation. Not bad, especially considering that in Italy there are 250 million olive trees and that for the oil industry the main problem is the disposal of waste water.
The application of ENEA's separative membrane technology is also used in the dairy industry, to create products with healthy properties, transforming what would be a waste from the large polluting load into raw material with high added value. ENEA is also developing technological solutions capable of recovering some nutrients present in the water and particularly polluting if released into the environment, such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, to transform them into fertilizers for agriculture.
Another example of how much can be done for the water saving is the energy valorisation of industrial waste. Microbial Fuel Cells are systems that, thanks to the electricity produced by bacteria, allow to power small electrical devices, but which in the future could be used to reduce the energy consumption of water purification plants.