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Table 2

SWOT analysis of water reuse in hydroponic systems for German conditions: Strengths

Strengths
MaterialImmaterial
Water treatment
  • Treatment of wastewater to gain irrigation water is possible in qualities up to DIN 19650, even for the irrigation of vegetables eaten raw.

  • The concept can also address upcoming requirements of phosphorus recovery.

  • Pharmaceutical residues, heavy metals and pathogens can be reduced sufficiently within wastewater treatment or in the case of pathogens by implementing additional hygienic barriers.

  • Parts of the necessary instrumentation and control infrastructure already exist. For instance, most WWTPs are equipped with online measuring devices to detect ammonium, nitrate and phosphorus.

Plant production
  • Plant growth functions in hydroponic systems fed with this irrigation water. Moreover, the supply of irrigation water via a tube includes an additional barrier regarding microbial risks as the water is only touching plant roots.

  • Depending on the design of the irrigation system, two goals can be achieved: nutrient efficiency (flow-through system) and water efficiency (recirculating nutrient solution).

  • Different greenhouse crops like fruits/vegetables and ornamental flowers can be produced, while the high-yield production is not exposed to seasonal weather patterns like droughts in summer or frost in winter as long as illumination and heating is provided.

Environment
  • The system reduces environmental risks, such as groundwater pollution, as the hydroponic system itself is closed to the environment.

  • The hydroponic system can be balanced in a way that its effluent flow contains very low concentrations of nutrients. Thus, it can be discharged into sensitive water bodies without further treatment.

 
Operation and management
  • First economic studies indicate that hydroponic greenhouses can be operated economically (Fischer et al. 2018; Mohr et al. 2018; Zimmermann & Fischer 2020).

  • As nutrients recycled from wastewater are used, this concept is an example of a circular economy. It helps to reduce the dependency on artificial fertilisers and reduces the need of nutrient elimination and therefore the cost of sewage treatment (Fischer et al. 2019)

Actors and institutions (law)
  • There are forms of cooperation that can be used to organise and manage such a system among the involved actors: (a) private contracts and (b) regional organisations. The categories such as liability, obligations and quality assurance, requiring special care in the respective agreements, are known.

  • Quantitatively, the system contributes to secure supply streams that mitigate groundwater competition and reduce the risk of illegal overextraction, which is not currently monitored or measured.

Values and standards (sustainability) 
Strengths
MaterialImmaterial
Water treatment
  • Treatment of wastewater to gain irrigation water is possible in qualities up to DIN 19650, even for the irrigation of vegetables eaten raw.

  • The concept can also address upcoming requirements of phosphorus recovery.

  • Pharmaceutical residues, heavy metals and pathogens can be reduced sufficiently within wastewater treatment or in the case of pathogens by implementing additional hygienic barriers.

  • Parts of the necessary instrumentation and control infrastructure already exist. For instance, most WWTPs are equipped with online measuring devices to detect ammonium, nitrate and phosphorus.

Plant production
  • Plant growth functions in hydroponic systems fed with this irrigation water. Moreover, the supply of irrigation water via a tube includes an additional barrier regarding microbial risks as the water is only touching plant roots.

  • Depending on the design of the irrigation system, two goals can be achieved: nutrient efficiency (flow-through system) and water efficiency (recirculating nutrient solution).

  • Different greenhouse crops like fruits/vegetables and ornamental flowers can be produced, while the high-yield production is not exposed to seasonal weather patterns like droughts in summer or frost in winter as long as illumination and heating is provided.

Environment
  • The system reduces environmental risks, such as groundwater pollution, as the hydroponic system itself is closed to the environment.

  • The hydroponic system can be balanced in a way that its effluent flow contains very low concentrations of nutrients. Thus, it can be discharged into sensitive water bodies without further treatment.

 
Operation and management
  • First economic studies indicate that hydroponic greenhouses can be operated economically (Fischer et al. 2018; Mohr et al. 2018; Zimmermann & Fischer 2020).

  • As nutrients recycled from wastewater are used, this concept is an example of a circular economy. It helps to reduce the dependency on artificial fertilisers and reduces the need of nutrient elimination and therefore the cost of sewage treatment (Fischer et al. 2019)

Actors and institutions (law)
  • There are forms of cooperation that can be used to organise and manage such a system among the involved actors: (a) private contracts and (b) regional organisations. The categories such as liability, obligations and quality assurance, requiring special care in the respective agreements, are known.

  • Quantitatively, the system contributes to secure supply streams that mitigate groundwater competition and reduce the risk of illegal overextraction, which is not currently monitored or measured.

Values and standards (sustainability) 
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