Focus topics of IFAT Munich 2024

Whether water management or waste management: IFAT Munich offers you insights and innovative solutions on a wide range of topics in the field of environmental technologies. From recycling methods and digitization strategies to material flow management, the focus is on opportunities and challenges for industries, municipalities and public authorities alike.

Key topic: Adapting to the results of climate change

Heavy rain and flooding, extreme heat and water shortage–the consequences of climate change cannot be ignored. All social players, such as government, cities and communities, companies, and private individuals must adapt. The communities play a special role on the path to better climate resilience. They are responsible for many central infrastructure areas and therefore have a variety of opportunities to shape things locally. When it comes to dealing sensitively with rain, drinking, service, process and waste water in the future, as is increasingly demanded on all side, the environmental technology industry is an important contact, developer of ideas, and solution provider.

Waste management also makes a valuable contribution to protecting the climate: Recycling can save resources, reduce raw material consumption, and combat climate change.

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Digitalization in water management

From raw water extraction to customer billing – the use of digital technologies will have an increasing impact on all value creation stages in water supply. Examples: Sensor data, in combination with a digital model of the machine, can be used to predict the failure of a highly stressed pump. Artificial intelligence creates detailed water consumption forecasts from a variety of data, this enabling optimized system operation. The use of smart digital water meters makes operating conditions even more transparent. In remote training, augmented reality helps make it easier to train new staff and teach system-specific knowledge even better.

In parallel to the ecological, economic and organizational benefits, the risks for IT security and data protection must, however, also be examined. After all, drinking water and sewage facilities are part of the critical infrastructure.

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Management of water and sewage plants

Drinking water and sewage networks demand a high level of maintenance. Regular checking and—if required—refurbishing or replacement are necessary. The environmental technology industry offers both established and innovative processes for assessing the status. For example, remote-controlled camera robots are run through drains, while drinking water pipes can be checked for leak tightness using optical-acoustic inspection systems. In planning and implementing new construction or renovation work, it is no longer just economic efficiency and operational safety that play important roles. Instead, in the interest of sustainability, factors such as demographic trends, effects of climate change, technological developments, energy efficiency, and potential to produce energy from waste water must also be taken into consideration.

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Water supply and reuse

Whether in industrial processes or agricultural irrigation, reusing municipal waste water or rain water is growing in importance. Adequate purification is important in both ecological and economic terms: Although drinking water quality is not required in many applications, contamination by pollutants such as pharmaceutical products, microplastics and germs in surface and ground water must be reliably avoided.

With regard to the drinking water supply—from a global perspective—seawater desalination is one of the beacons of hope. Developers are working here on possible ways of reducing environmental damage and also the costs of the methods.

The ever growing appreciation for the blue gold also means, of course, ensuring that as little as possible of it is lost during transport from A to B. The environmental technology industry provides water network operators with tools to be able to quickly identify and rectify leaks.

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Sewage transport and treatment

More frequent heavy rainfall and long dry spells—climate change challenges the management of wastewater treatment plants. In addition, modern sewage treatment plants are faced with other, even further reaching cleaning issues: How can they contribute to eliminating trace elements, microplastics, and multi-resistant pathogens from the water cycle? Alongside these relatively recently targeted challenges, the goal of maximum energy efficiency for all treatment stages, optimum handling of the problem material sewage sludge—including the recovery of the finite, vital element phosphorous—and, last but not least, the development and implementation of affordable renovations concepts for the widespread ailing sewer systems remain “permanent tasks”.

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Energy-efficient and sustainable water management

The drinking water supply and wastewater disposal account for around 40 percent of the energy consumption of cities and communities. Accordingly high is the incentive to further improve the energy efficiency of sewage treatment plants and waterworks. An important technological starting point for that continues to be the big consumers such as pumps and motors. In addition, energy can also be recovered in sewage treatment plants. The biogas generated from sewage sludge can be converted into heat and power. Almost all sewage companies in Germany are already using the renewable energy source to cut their total energy requirements in an eco-friendly manner.

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Water management

The infrastructure around flowing and standing waters needs to be adapted to the climate crisis. What construction measures can our society use in this regard to sensibly respond to increasing droughts and extreme rainfall? How can we use and strengthen the balancing force of the natural ecosystems? What does water-sensitive city development look like? How do we effectively protect our coasts and the all-important, not least in economic terms, port cities, but with as few interventions in natural systems as possible? Whatever answers to this are found in detail, substantial investments can be expected.

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Digitalization in municipal technology and waste management

In smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) is also finding its way into waste disposal. Intelligent sensors determine the filling level of garbage containers, help with demand-oriented collection, and enable individual invoicing. Digital watermarks on plastic packaging provide information about the material used, making accurate sorting easier. Smooth processes require uniform standards in the digital communication between the disposal and recycling companies and their customers—in particular coordinated interfaces. The signs are also pointing to automation and digitization in the municipal tasks of street cleaning and winter service. Many manufacturers are implementing aspects related to the keywords connected vehicles, digital logistics chains and predictive maintenance. In addition, autonomous sweepers are about to go into series production.

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Logistics and mobility in municipal technology and waste management

Low-emission, quiet, and eco-friendly, while still remaining reliable—these are key goals for the waste collection, street cleaning and winter services of the future. For example, around half of the fleet of 1,800 vehicles of the BSR, Berlin’s city cleaning company, should be equipped with alternative drives by 2030. The manufacturers already offer battery and hydrogen powered systems now that meet the requirement profiles very well. If the waste collection vehicle still has a conventional drive, the energy from braking can at least be used for the collection process.

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Material flow management

Conserving natural resources is one of the major global tasks of humanity. It can only succeed if materials such as used plastic packaging, discarded electrical items, and rubble are not regarded as waste to be disposed of. Instead, they need to be processed as recyclables in an ecologically and economically expedient manner and reused. To that end, the international environmental technology industry offers a variety of approaches: from material recycling processes and chemical processing to thermal utilizations. Another important point is that dealing with material and energy flows in an intelligent and resource-efficient manner can also make an essential contribution to climate protection.

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Innovative and efficient waste and recycling management

The complex world of waste and recycling management still offers plenty of room today for efficiency-boosting innovations. In sorting processes, for example, digitalization can help optimize energy consumption. Advanced recycling solutions aim to reduce the ecological footprint and improve resource efficiency. There is still considerable potential here in the logistics sector, for instance. On the process side, comparatively new concepts such as biological or chemical recycling promise important stimulus for the circular economy of the future.

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Air extraction and air-pollution control

Other efficiency improvements and advancing automation and digitalization are among the main current trends in industrial exhaust air purification. One topic, for example, is the use of intelligent sensors and connected systems that enable improved process monitoring and control.

On the process side, thermal methods play an important role in effectively eliminating volatile organic compounds and other harmful substances from exhaust air.

As far as reducing greenhouse gases is concerned, capturing and subsequently using or storing carbon dioxide is a currently much discussed approach.

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Spotlight Area—Hydrogen in the circular economy

Hydrogen is a comparatively new field, in which the municipal circular economy can become active. Many research institutions and technology companies are currently examining processes aimed at producing the energy-rich gas from waste water. Ideally, the latter is cleaned at the same time. Ways of achieving “orange hydrogen” are also being explored in waste management. It is produced either directly from biomass or generated from power from waste-to-energy and biogas plants.

Spotlight Area Hydrogen