Project summary

The AFTERLIFE project proposes a flexible, cost- and resource-efficient process for recovering and valorizing the relevant fractions from wastewater. It will represent an advance on existing approaches to wastewater treatment, which rely on physic-chemical and biological methods.


The AFTERLIFE process will separate out the different components of value using a series of membrane filtration units that will separate all the solids in the wastewater. These will then be treated to obtain high-pure extracts and metabolites or, alternatively, to be converted into value-added biopolymers; polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).

In addition to the value extracted from the solids, the remaining outflow of the water will be ultrapure and ready for re-use.


Project duration: 01 September 2017 – 28 February 2022


The overarching objective of the AFTERLIFE project is to demonstrate, at TRL-5, an innovative wastewater treatment that simultaneously recovers compounds of interest while converting the remaining organic matter into a high-volume added value biopolymer. Specifically, it sets out to:

  • Develop the filtration system for recovering suspended and soluble solids in wastewater by using membrane filtration units.
  • Develop the process for recovering and purifying valuable compounds in the concentrates extracted in the filtration step.
  • Develop an anaerobic/aerobic process for converting the low value-added organic matter into PHAs.
  • Optimize the resources in the process, following a circular economy approach
  • Design and optimize the AFTERLIFE process from a holistic perspective following a Multidisciplinary Design Optimization (MDO) approach
  • Conduct a demonstration, at a pilot scale, using real industrial wastewater to generate the end products
  • Prove the economic and industrial feasibility for AFTERLIFE process along with a comprehensive Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) and cost assessment.
  • Promote exploitation of the project’s results and expand its impact.


The AFTERLIFE project aims to deliver a substantial positive impact in the progress of wastewater treatment technologies and relevant fractions recovery.

Specifically, it will:

  • Validate that AFTERLIFE provides recovery rates that are comparable to, or better than, those of competing technologies.
  • Successfully recycle or reuse at least 10 percent, in dry weight, of the suspended solid fractions.
  • Create a new cross-sectorial interconnection in bio-based economy clusters.
  • Create cooperation projects through cross-industry clusters.
  • Set the foundations for at least one new bio-based value chain and one new bio-based material.
  • Lead to 30 new consumer products by 2020.
  • Attract broad participation from SMES.

Project details

Duration (Years)

Max. grant amount



Work packages

Work package 1 - Wastewater supply and tailor pretreatment and filtration

Collection of wastewater from industries representative of different food processing sectors with disparate characteristics. Obtaining a representative characterization of the wastewaters from industrial providers. Design of the unitary operations for wastewater pretreatment according to the required characteristics for the input of the filtration steps. Design of pretreatment operations. Maximization of the separation of solid and liquid phases. Production of ultra-pure water as output after the filtration steps.

  • Supply of industrial wastewater
  • Characterization of the effluent from wastewater providers
  • Design of pretreatment operations
  • Test at laboratory scale of pretreatment operations
  • Development of the filtration steps
  • Test at laboratory scale of the developed filtration system
Work package 2 - Development of tailored extraction, fractionation and purification processess of metabolites of interest

Development and optimization of the extraction and fractionation of target compounds. Development and optimization of the isolation of metabolites. Production of the fraction of interest in sufficient quantities and related data for partner involved in WP3 for further transformation. Validation of the use of refined metabolites as food additives. Evaluation of the purified metabolites in food applications (antioxidants, proteins, colors, preservatives, sweeteners).

  • Metabolites extraction and fractionation.
  • Refining and isolation of metabolites of interest.
  • Characterization of extracted fractions and refined metabolites.
  • Development of processes for extraction residues valorization.
  • Evaluation of the refined extracts/metabolites in food applications.
Work package 3 - PHA production and processing

Maximization of the organic matter conversion into VFA. Obtaining a VFA stream suitable as feedstock in PHA production step. Development of a modified strain of a PHA-producing bacterium. Development of a strain for the conversion of VFA into PHA. Maximization of PHA production from VFA. Maximization of PHA content in cells. Comparison of the strategies for PHA production. Development and use of a modified PHA-storing strain and use of a selected bacterial consortium. Comparison of PHA productivity. Adaptation of physical and mechanical properties to the envisaged end applications.

  • VFA production by means of the anaerobic digestion of the recovered organic matter.
  • Concentration and purification of the output VFA stream.
  • Selection and improvement of a bacterial strain for the conversion of VFA into PHA.
  • Synthesis of biopolymer at laboratory scale using the selected strain.
  • Synthesis of biopolymer at laboratory scale using a bacterial consortium.
  • PHA characterization and comparison
  • PHA recovery
  • Conversion of the polymer into a thermoplastic material
Work package 4 - Resources optimisation

Maximization organic matter degradation in anaerobic digestion. Minimization of the biomass to be treated after anaerobic digestion. Determination of the energy generation from the outlet gas in anaerobic digestion.

  • Anaerobic digestion of the solid residues from the process
  • Energy production
  • Valorization of residual streams
Work package 5 - Integrated process design and MDO optimisation

Integration of all the knowledge generated in previous WP and tasks in a unified mathematical model of the AFTERLIFE process. Implementation an optimization strategy integrating AFTERLIFE model, design and operational goals and constraints. Obtaining an optimal set of design and operational parameters as a basis of AFTERLIFE pilot design improvements in process performance defined in terms of multi-objective function evaluation.

  • Development of a holistic mathematical model of the process
  • Multidisciplinary optimization (MDO)
  • Evaluation of the optimization problems results
  • Particularization of the model and distribution of the optimal results
  • Process conceptual design and basic engineering
  • Process detailed engineering
Work package 6 - Pilot deployment and demonstration

Deployment of the project pilot by the assembly of the core steps of the process. Fine tune and further optimize process performance. Production of commercial intermediates and goods. Evaluation of the recyclability of PHA-thermoplastic.

  • Demonstration of the pilot on industrial wastewater
  • Production of PHA-based thermoplastic materials at larger scale
  • Processing of PHA-based thermoplastic materials into end products.
  • End-of-life of PHA-based products: recyclability, biodegradability and compostability
  • Production of food products by adding refined extracts and metabolites
Work package 7 - Process assessment

Evaluation of the techno-economic viability of the developed products and processes. Evaluation of the environmental impact of the developed products and processes by means of an LCA study. Evaluation of the social and socio-economic impacts of the developed products and processes by socio-economic assessment and consumer acceptance study.

  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Techno-economic analysis
  • Socio-economic assessment and consumer acceptance
Work package 8 - Exploitation and dissemination

Evolve and update the exploitation and dissemination plan. Communication and dissemination of the project results. Organize workshops to promote the projects results within potential stakeholders. Exploitation workshops within the project. Contribution to the strategic innovation and research agenda (SIRA) for BBI JU established by Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). Participation in clustering activities together with other projects within BBI JU frame and in collaboration with BIC.

  • Exploitation and dissemination plan
  • Communication measures implementation
  • Knowledge management and protection
  • Replication in other industries
Work package 9 - Management

Overall objective is to perform the project coordination and management according to the management structure and decision –making mechanism of the project. Guarantee the appropriate execution of all tasks and objectives including knowledge management and Exploitation and Dissemination activities within the allotted time and budget. Establishment of a proper liaison with the EC for reporting and financial administration. Conduct risk assessment to appropriately ensure effectiveness and excellence in the envisaged work program execution. Ensure the implementation of exploitation plan as exploitation manager. Foster a fluent exchange of project-related information within the members of the team as innovation manager.

  • Project coordination and day-to-day management activities
  • Administrative and financial management
  • Risk management
  • Exploitation management
  • Innovation management