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Saving water with smart irrigation systems

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News, Water & Waste Water

Frankfurt wants to become a pioneer in water-saving irrigation of city trees: The city could potentially use around a thousand cubic meters less water in the future by optimizing irrigation processes for young urban trees. This is the first interim result of the “Smart Irrigation” pilot project, which researchers at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart are conducting together with FES Frankfurter Entsorgungs- und Service GmbH and other project participants. An intelligent measuring and computer system records the current water supply of the trees. In the future, this could enable irrigation to be demand-oriented and digitally controlled.

In view of the increasingly hot and dry summers, the issue of water scarcity is also becoming more and more important in Germany. In large cities in particular, which already have to cover their water requirements from the surrounding countryside, sealed surfaces and falling groundwater levels are exacerbating the problem. In the summer months, this often leads to a lack of water supply for urban trees with serious consequences. According to press reports, several thousand trees in German cities die each year from lack of water.

Yet trees are crucial to a city’s microclimate and its air quality; not only do they provide shade, increase humidity, lower the ambient temperature and filter out dust and pollutants from the air. They also have a positive influence on the human psyche and contribute to the well-being of city dwellers.

Few studies on smart irrigation systems in cities

With climate change, more and more cities are turning to smart city concepts that use advanced information technologies to conserve scarce resources. Especially with regard to the water supply of urban trees, the installation of intelligent irrigation systems can be useful. This is shown by a research project of the University of Hohenheim and FES Frankfurter Entsorgungs- und Service GmbH in cooperation with the Frankfurt Green Spaces Office, the Frankfurt Palmengarten, IoT Concepts GmbH & Co KG, clickbar. GmbH, as well as the Project Group Business Informatics of the Fraunhofer FIT and the FIM Research Center.

Currently, in the city of Frankfurt, as in many other cities, trees are irrigated with a fixed amount of water according to a predetermined schedule. According to experts, this rigid watering schedule can lead to overwatering of some species and opens up the potential for water savings. In addition, contracted service providers sometimes use potable water for competitive reasons, even though the city’s Parks Department provides several process and stormwater sources citywide that could be used for irrigation services. In a model project, the research team is working with the city government, IT specialists and botanists to investigate how to design a smart irrigation system for urban trees.

“A variety of smart irrigation methods already exist in the agricultural sector. However, studies that examine what smart irrigation systems can look like in urban settings are scarce. To our knowledge, our study is among the first to propose a design for a smart irrigation system for urban trees.”

– Dr. Valerie Graf-Drasch, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Digital Management at the University of Hohenheim

Intelligent irrigation system will determine water requirements in the future

In order to minimize water losses, an intelligent irrigation system must determine the water requirements of the plants as accurately as possible and ensure an optimal water supply. To this end, small measuring devices equipped with a transmitter were inserted into the soil of eight young ash trees in the trial. This is because freshly planted, young trees are particularly dependent on an adequate water supply.

Both soil moisture sensors and tensiometers are used. These record the so-called water potential of the soil. It indicates how much water is available to the plants at different depths and what force the trees needed to draw it from the soil.

The data is transmitted via a special city-owned radio network directly to a central computer, which in the future will use it to calculate the individual watering requirements of each tree. The goal is to no longer provide each tree with a predetermined amount of water across the board, but rather to determine the amount needed depending on the location and thus save water. “More research is needed before a smart irrigation system can automatically calculate individual water requirements from soil parameters and other parameters. Until then, however, the collected data will in any case help to support human experts,” emphasizes Florian Hawlitschek, Innovation Manager at FES.

The pilot project also confirms that this can succeed: an initial evaluation of the data collected shows that the trees studied actually had enough water available in April 2021 and were still irrigated. According to the researchers, an optimized irrigation scheme in the spring of this year could have reduced water consumption in German cities by several million liters.

Dr. Graf-Drasch points out, however, that these preliminary results should be interpreted with caution. In other years, the results could be different. “However, the results of this test show that a lot of water can be saved in the maintenance of urban green spaces. That’s because, conversely, our system also allows us to determine whether a tree has received too much water. Especially in times of aggravated water scarcity, this is an important finding. Digital and automated technologies can help us become better and more efficient at protecting the environment in the future. However, instead of fixed routes and water quantities, more flexibility will then be required.”

News Processing Technologies

Rapid further development of connectors

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The Connector Congress in Würzburg has come to an end with the participation of rolled products manufacturer Kemper.

“After more than a year of abstinence, finally the first presence event in the industry. A piece of normality that many have longed for all this time. We are all the more pleased to have had many interesting discussions and made new contacts.”

– Dr. Stephan Hansmann, Head of Technical Marketing

Miniaturization is one of the much-discussed megatrends, as a result of which more and more plug contacts are being realized in the smallest possible installation space. Accordingly, there was great interest at the Kemper booth in HP bronzes, which have improved formability compared to standard alloys without sacrificing strength. With this property, Kemper HP bronzes offer themselves as an optimal material for increasingly smaller connector systems. “Connectors in particular are developing rapidly and will actively accompany the energy transition,” Hansmann is certain. “This includes, for example, smart connectors with additional functions, where, for example, connectors communicate with each other even before the plugging process has taken place.”

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Great catch-up potential for eMobility in public transport

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Around a hundred thousand diesel buses are still on Europe’s roads with outdated technology. At the same time, the number of e-buses is rising significantly. It is hardly surprising that electromobility is on the rise. After all, the call for sustainable mobility is getting louder and louder. With the MAN Lion’s City 12 E and the all-electric 18 E articulated bus, MAN Truck & Bus offers the right solution for the urban transport of the future.

Electromobility is electrifying more and more people. This is clearly demonstrated by the rising registration figures for e-cars. But e-mobility is not only gaining momentum in private transport. In public transport, too, more and more operators are turning to e-vehicles, as recent figures from the umbrella organization of European vehicle manufacturers (ACEA) show. Based on bus registration figures, the association reported that sales of electric buses in the European Union increased by 18.4 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The share of diesel engines, on the other hand, decreased by almost ten percent (source: “ACEA buses by fuel type full-year 2020,” 30 March 2021).

“Overall, the total European market for electric buses was more than 2,000 vehicles last year. And the trend is clearly upward. We expect half of all new city buses to be alternatively powered by 2025.”

– Rudi Kuchta, Head Business Unit Bus

Despite the rising eBus numbers, diesel buses are still by far the most common on EU roads. According to ACEA, there were a total of more than 690,000 buses in 2019, with an average age of 11.7 years – 94.5 percent of which were powered by diesel, and 0.6 percent purely electric (source: ACEA Report “Vehicles in use Europe,” January 2021). “The figures and our experience show that electromobility is on the rise. At the same time, they also make clear what great potential it still holds. Replacing diesel buses with outdated technology with modern electric buses will help enormously to reduce CO2 emissions,” says Kuchta, adding, “This is a key building block in tackling climate change.” After all, with an annual mileage of 50,000 to 60,000 kilometers and a consumption of 36 to 49 liters per 100 kilometers, which varies depending on use, topography and vehicle variant, an eBus traveling with zero local emissions can save around 60 to 80 tons of CO2 per year – compared to a diesel bus and assuming the current electricity mix.

The bus is already considered the most environmentally friendly and economical means of transport. However, local public transport operators and municipalities have it in their own hands to cut CO2 emissions even more and thus contribute to climate protection. The European Union has also recognized this and passed the Clean Vehicle Directive. This provides for binding emission standards in municipal fleets – the legislation has been in force since August 2021. Cities must thus set their course for emission-free mobility. The goal: to move from “low emission” to “no emission.”

“More and more public transport companies have understood this and are relying only on battery-powered city buses for new purchases. Or they are setting clear time targets for converting the entire fleet to zero-emission drives,” says Kuchta. One example is Verkehrsbetriebe Hamburg-Holstein (VHH), which has been procuring only locally emission-free, battery-powered buses since 2020. The goal is to convert the entire bus fleet to zero-emission drives as far as possible by 2030.

In order to provide transport companies with the best possible support on their way to zero-emission mobility, the company offers an overall concept that brings together holistic eMobility consulting and tailored, forward-looking solutions. Because for MAN, too, the future of urban mobility is electric. “We are convinced that electromobility is the key technology for commercial vehicle transport of the future. For this reason, we are constantly driving technologies and progress forward together with our customers,” says Rudi Kuchta. The focus here is on the MAN Lion’s City E – and thus the all-electric solution for public transport.

For months now, the MAN Lion’s City E has been demonstrating in more and more cities throughout Europe how excellently it masters urban traffic and how easily it can be integrated into existing processes. During an MAN eBus test drive that took place in Munich in May of this year, it also cracked the 550-kilometer mark under realistic everyday conditions with just one battery charge. “The issue of range plays an essential role for our customers.

After all, on lines that were previously served by a single vehicle with an internal combustion engine, only one electric vehicle will be on the road in the future. During the MAN Efficiency Run, our eBus impressively demonstrated how suitable electric mobility already is for everyday use,” says Kuchta. Even with a realistic range of “only” 400 kilometers in regular operation, the bus could cover 98 percent of the routes served by MAN customers without intermediate charging. And it would then be charged in the depot – with the advantage that operators would not have to invest in additional charging infrastructure in the city area.

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WPL wastewater technology is selected by major logistics hub

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Technology from water recycling specialist WPL, a WCS Group company, was selected by DP World London Gateway to provide enhanced ammonia removal to protect sensitive waters in the Thames Estuary. 

DP World London Gateway is a smart logistics center on the north bank of the Thames in Thurrock, Essex, 25 miles from central London. The water recycling specialist will supply a bespoke treatment plant for a new freestanding warehouse for 150 office workers, currently under construction at the logistics center. The plant will be able to handle a flow of 7.5 m3/d for 100 population equivalents.

The treatment plant will discharge into an environmentally sensitive swale that empties into the Thames Estuary and must meet the Environment Agency’s stringent standards of 15:15:03 mg/l for ammonia and suspended solids.  The water specialist will provide an underground HiPAF (High Performance Aerated Filter) system for ammonia removal, as well as a metering unit and sand filter to further improve the final effluent in accordance with site-specific permit requirements. The design also includes a small pumping system due to the depth of the incoming effluent and a pumped backflow chamber.

Dominic Hamblin, WPL’s technical director, said, “DP London Gateway is a key logistics hub and we are pleased to be able to deliver this environmental solution on site on its behalf.

“WPL’s modular HiPAF product range meets the stringent European standards for permitting wastewater without the use of chemicals. The technology is regularly used by UK water utilities and is a good choice for sensitive sites such as marshes, which are shallow and not heavily diluted.

“The HiPAF’s compact design allows it to be installed in locations where space is at a premium, such as a busy commercial area. In addition, our sand filters are designed to remove excess suspended solids and biological oxygen demand when permit standards are above what would normally be expected from a biological process. 

“Once operational, the plant will provide robust wastewater treatment while being quiet, visually unobtrusive and easy to maintain. WPL’s wastewater treatment plant is being built by Readie Construction. Construction is scheduled to begin before the end of 2021 and is expected to take 12 weeks.

“DP World London Gateway is a high-profile site surrounded by sensitive water bodies. We are therefore pleased to be working with WPL to install on-site wastewater treatment for the new warehouse building.”  

– Giuseppe Orlando, Project Manager 

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