Journal of Agricultural Engineering (Sep 2013)

Evaluation of herbaceous crops irrigated with treated wastewater for ethanol production

  • Salvatore Barbagallo,
  • Antonio Barbera,
  • Giuseppe L. Cirelli,
  • Mirco Milani,
  • Attilio Toscano,
  • Roberto Albergo

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 44, no. 2s


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The competition for freshwater between agricultural, industrial, and civil uses has greatly increased in Mediterranean basin characterized by prolonged dry seasons. The aim of this study was to evaluate biomass production and the potential ethanol production of promising “no-food” herbaceous crops irrigated with low quality water at different ETc restitutions (0%, 50 and 100%). The research was carried out, in 2011 and 2012, in an open field near the full-scale constructed wetland (CW) municipal treatment plant located in the Eastern Sicily (Italy). The CW effluent has been applied in a experimental irrigation field of Vetiveria zizanoides (L.) Nash, Miscanthus x giganteus Greef et Deu. and Arundo donax (L.). Physical, chemical and microbiological analyses were carried out on wastewater samples collected at inlet and outlet of CW and pollutant removal efficiencies were calculated for each parameter. Bio-agronomical analysis on herbaceous species were made with the goal to evaluate the main parameters such as the plant dimension, the growth response and the biomass production. Biomass dry samples were processed with a three-step chemical pretreatment, hydrolysed with a mix of commercial enzymes and next fermented to obtain the yield of ethanol production. Average TSS, COD and TN removal for CW were about 74%, 67% and 68%, respectively. Although the satisfactory Escherichia coli removal, about 3.5 log unit for both beds on average, CW didn’t achieve the restrictive Italian law limits for wastewater reuse. As expected, irrigation was beneficial and the full ET replenishment increase the biomass productivity as compared to the other two treatment. The mean productivity of Vetiveria zizanoides and Myscanthus x giganteus were about 9, 26 and 38 t ha–1 and 3, 7 and 12 t ha–1 respectively in 0%, 50% and 100% ETc restitutions. Arundo donax gave higher values of dry biomass (78 t ha–1 in 100% ETc restitution in 2011 season), and potential ethanol production (about 3,744 kg ha–1). These results suggest the interest in the use of constructed wetland effluents for the irrigation of energy crops to obtain second generation ethanol, particularly in semiarid regions such as the Mediterranean area.