Olive oil is the principal source of fats in the Mediterranean diet and is credited with a range of health benefits. Its popularity supports a huge industry with around 3 million tonnes produced annually worldwide – 70% of it by EU countries, principally Spain, Italy and Greece. But production carries a significant environmental problem.
The extraction process generates a dark effluent characterised by high organic carbon content, particularly phenols and polyphenols which are highly polluting.Treatment and disposal of this olive mill waste is a major problem for Mediterranean producers. Around 30 million cubic metres of waste water are produced annually, during a three to four-month period. The presence of phenols make it difficult to purify. The compounds are not degraded by bacterial techniques, and anaerobic digestion allows for only 80 to 90 % COD removal, insufficient to permit effluent to be discharged into the environment.
Many olive oil producers are small enterprises. They can not afford the high capital costs of complex water treatment solutions. There is a danger that untreated or partly treated effluent will be discharged, with a resulting adverse effect on ground and surface water resources, soil quality and the heath of ecosystems.
The main purpose of the demonstration project Life Olèico is the construction and start-up of a prototype of a phytodepuration facility patented by ISRIM and the propagation and diffusion of this new scientific appraoch in order to introduce it into the law in force as official method for the disposal of olive mill wastewater.
This plant is meant to provide the olive oil producer with an efficient, eco-friendly disposal system of easy application for the agricultural operators. The utilisation of biomass and humified organic matter could furthermore guarantee a profitable return.
The proposed plant is not intended for the pomace treatment.