Befesa and Innovation

Befesa’s research and development strategy is geared towards results and value creation by proposing new technologies in alignment with sustainable development.

Befesa’s strategic research and development plan pursues the following objectives:

  • To become a technologically competitive leader in aluminum and galvanized steel waste recycling.
  • To develop new technologies for industrial waste management.
  • To lead the field in desalination technology and become technologically competitive in wastewater treatment and reuse.

Research in the realm of aluminum waste recycling seeks to improve performance in the recovery of aluminum raw materials and waste, optimize operating procedures and product quality, and develop new, improved technologies in aid of sustainable development.

The steel and galvanic wastes recycling area has recently formed a new company, Befesa Steel R&D&I, SL, with a view to bringing organizational structure in line with the new model, expand the various lines of activity and widen and improve the company’s range of services so as to exceed market expectations and enhance both delivered and customer-perceived value.

The industrial waste integrated management area is developing new technologies in step with ongoing change in environmental law. The company prioritizes its management methods based on a hierarchy headed by reuse, recycling and value recovery as against merely eliminative treatment. It is also diversifying into new environmental markets and widening the range of treatable wastes.

In the water area, the company’s goal is to lead the desalination field, become technologically competitive in potabilization and urban and industrial wastewater treatment and reuse, and entrench its leading position in hydraulic infrastructure and water resource management models and systems.

One of the main vectors of Befesa’s research and development strategy is to enter into external partnerships with institutions and universities. Major partners include the Fundación Euskoiker and the Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales de Bilbao, as part of the activities conducted by the Aula Befesa higher education unit in training and research.

Befesa collaborates closely with a large number of research teams based at various universities and public research institutions, including Seville University, Cadiz University, Valladolid University, Granada University, Malaga University, Castilla La Mancha University, Polytechnic University of Seville, Gerona University, Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Energy and Environment Research Center (Ciemat), Solar Energy Research Center (Ciesol), Inasmet, Laboratorio Inatec, Insesca and Alcan, among others.

The company has also engaged in cooperation with Spanish government bodies in the form of subsidies or partnerships with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade (MITyC), the Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs, CDTI (Spanish, Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial), the Ministry of Education PROFIT Program (Spanish, Programa para el Fomento de la Investigación Técnica), the Andalusia regional Department of Innovation Science and Enterprise (Agencia IDEA), and CTA (Spanish, Corporación Tecnológica de Andalucía).

To achieve its research, development and innovation goals, Befesa has built its own research and development center in Seville. Equipped with state-of-the-art, sustainable facilities, the center has the scientific and technological resources to position Befesa at the technological forefront of its chosen fields. The center aspires to become an international benchmark in integrated water cycle management - desalination and reuse especially - and in industrial waste treatment. The facilities, which can house 70 researchers, have a total of 3,000 m2 of floor space, used primarily for testing, laboratories, workshop, offices, control room, exhibition room and multi-use room. 

11 CBefesa R&D&I Center

Befesa Innovation Highlights of 2010

 2010 was a year of entrenchment and further growth for Befesa’s research and development capability. The company’s total research and development outlay in 2010 came to €4 M. The firm employs a staff of 40 full-time researchers.

The highlights of 2010 for Befesa were:

Cenit TEcoAgua 

In late 2009, Spain’s Ministry of Science and Innovation notified Befesa of the approval of the project titled TEcoAgua, "Sustainable Technologies for the Integrated Water Cycle", an initiative headed by Befesa Agua, in the context of the fifth annual selection round of the Cenit-E program, a government scheme in support of technological development. The TEcoAgua project, led by Befesa Agua, is backed by a total budget of €18 M. Over a timeframe of four years, the project will be completed by a partnership of ten consortium members, four of which are SMEs, and twenty-one universities, selected on the basis of scientific excellence and industrial and regional diversity.

The prime goal of the Cenit-funded TEcoAgua project is to develop sustainable technologies to generate alternative water resources. The team has integrated advanced water resource recovery technologies with regeneration and reuse of wastewater and new desalination processes, inter alia. The TEcoAgua project is one of Spain’s leading research initiatives in the water sector. 

12 Seawater pretreatment pilot plant using membranes

Technology Funds and European Projects 

In 2010, Befesa filed bids for awards under the Technology Fund Inter-Entrepreneurial Program in respect of three major projects in the field of industrial waste and aluminum recycling, with an aggregate budget of €6.8 M and involving eight partners. One of the projects aims to valorize waste and by-products as fuel and input materials in the cement industry (ValoRes); a second project involves using waste to produce biodegradable plastics (Bioplástica); while a third project aims to manufacture safety parts for the automobile industry using recycled aluminum having an iron content ranging from 0.3 to 0.4 % (Alesbap).

Within the framework of the Technology Fund and the Individual Research and Development Projects Program (Spanish “PID”), Befesa secured funding awards in 2010 for four projects with an eligible budget of €3.8 M in the fields of aluminum recycling, waste treatment and water.

2010 also saw the award of a Eureka seal to a research and development project for the application of new desalination technologies to industrial processes. The project is being taken forward as a cooperative effort between Befesa Agua and a Dutch partner, with a total budget of €2.7 M. 

13 MBR pilot plant

Technological Development 

Following on from work performed over the past few years, 2010 witnessed the construction and commissioning of a total of six demonstration plants designed to validate technological developments in water desalination and purification and waste treatment and recycling.

At Qingdao, China, Befesa has set in motion a pilot desalination plant using membrane technology for desalination pretreatment and reverse osmosis, boasting treatment capacity of 10 m³ of seawater per hour.

In the wastewater reuse field, in 2010 further progress was made in building two pilot MBR plants (membrane bioreactors), equipped with MF (microfiltration) membranes and having a treatment capacity of 1 m³ of wastewater per hour.

Befesa has built a pilot plant for the etherification of crude glycerol to obtain oxygenated additives for diesel fuels. This pilot plant has a total batch reaction capacity of 120 L. At the same strategy of valorization crude glycerol, Befesa has also built another pilot plant which goal is the steam reforming through a catalytic process to obtain more than 500 NL of hydrogen per hour. 

14 Glycerin etherification pilot plant

In 2010, Befesa’s plastics recycling business saw the construction of a demonstration plant producing fiberglass-reinforced plastics, with a capacity of 1,000 kg/h.

15 Fiberglass-reinforced plastic demonstration plant

This technological development has brought Befesa six new patents in 2010 at various stages of registration in Spain and via the PCT route.

Befesa’s Technological Strategy

16 R&D&I has a key role in the Befesa’s technological strategy

Aluminum Waste Recycling

Befesa Reciclaje de Residuos de Aluminio’s research and development efforts primarily seek to preserve the company’s competitive edge over other market players. Befesa’s research capability operates in four distinct areas:

  • Ongoing search for technically and economically viable processes to recycle all types of waste generated by aluminum manufacturing, such as red sludge, casting mold resins, or the recent success story involving SPL recycling.
  • The company is diversifying the range of aluminum-content input materials that its technology is capable of processing. Up to 25 % of all manufactured aluminum goes into compound domestic and urban products, which at present are only marginally recyclable.
  • Ongoing improvement of internal process technologies. Befesa is working to raise the yield obtained from input materials, minimize aluminum loss, minimize and optimize salt consumption, minimize salt slag generation, lower energy consumption and achieve energy autonomy.
  • Product development. Befesa’s aim is to bring the mechanical performance of secondary aluminum alloys up to the standard of primary alloys so as to gain entry to new markets. The company is also developing new applications for Paval to establish it as a valid value-added product in construction and civil engineering, metal manufacturing, the rubber and ceramic sectors, and elsewhere.

 A key element of Befesa’s strategy is to dedicate 300 m² of its Valladolid plant to research and development exclusively. This lot adjoins a facility operated by Befesa Escorias Salinas and Befesa Aluminio’s works. The availability of operating R&D&I staff and the proximity of industrial facilities producing input materials and Befesa Escorias Salinas’ analysis lab - the Befesa Reciclaje de Residuos de Aluminio group’s biggest - make this the ideal location for centralizing and reinforcing research and development in the chosen fields.

The R&D&I facility’s starting equipment will comprise a rotary furnace having 1 t of loading capacity and fitted with a gas treatment system and an aluminum and salt slag evacuation system. Other features will be an innovative eddy current pilot plant to enrich aluminum fines and extra fines, a small impact mill and a blade mill, and a conventional eddy current separator. The project is backed by an initial budget of €60,000 and is expected to be operational by early February 2011. 

17 Rotary furnace with 1 t of capacity to be installed at Valladolid

Industrial Waste Management

Befesa Gestión de Residuos Industriales’ strategic research and development plan seeks to entrench the company’s leadership in waste management and adapt to ongoing changes in environmental law. Specific objectives include:

  • Gradually replacing elimination treatments with recovery and energy value recovery approaches.
  • Reinforcing technological leadership in industrial waste management by developing environmentally safe and energy-efficient treatments.
  • Widening the scope of the market by offering industry new services and extending the range of treatable wastes, while diversifying into new environmental markets.

The strategic plan develops technologies that offer environmentally friendly and sustainable treatment alternatives to prevailing practices in waste management, by using the material and energy resources of wastes through recycling and value recovery processes. The technology activities associated with the strategic plan include:

  • Technologies supporting the production of waste-based fuels as alternatives to fossil fuels, and obtaining substitute input materials for industry.
  • Developing the best available technologies for thermal waste treatment.
  • Developing technologies to diversify into new markets and seize new opportunities via new recycling processes and obtaining high value-added products. 


Befesa Agua has an ambitious R&D&I strategic plan that aims to generate the technological know-how required to secure resource availability and quality and create sustainable solutions for the integrated water cycle.

The goals of the plan can be summarized as:

  • Optimizing the energy efficiency of reverse osmosis desalination; minimizing costs and enhancing sustainability while mitigating the environmental impact of the brine and moving towards the use of renewable energy to power the desalination process.
  • Developing wastewater reuse by extending the boundaries of urban and industrial wastewater treatment technology, optimizing it on a case-by-case basis for each specific reuse type.
  • Optimizing hydraulic infrastructure under sustainability criteria for the integrated water cycle and developing water management models that allocate natural, generated and regenerated resources with due regard to floods, drought processes and water quality.

 Befesa Agua’s strategic research and development plan drives forward along four main vectors of advance: (i) In-house resources, such as the research and development department and Befesa’s research and development center; (ii) research and development aid and subsidies awarded by a range of public authorities; (iii) collaboration agreements with universities; and (iv) technology partnership agreements.


R&D&I Programs

Befesa’s research and development is structured into seven core research and development programs focusing on industrial waste recycling and integrated water management. The research and development programs and their highlight projects are summarized below.

Aluminum Waste Recycling Program 

Befesa Aluminio’s R&D&I is implemented as a single program primarily directed to fulfill targets set by the company’s afore-mentioned R&D&I strategic plan.

Some of the highlights of its research and development within this program in 2010 are outlined below. 

Obtaining Second-Meltdown Aluminum Alloys for Use in Safety Components

This project, conducted in partnership with Edertek, Fagor Automoción’s technology center, and Cofundi, an SME that manufacturers die-cast parts, applies research findings to use recycled aluminum to make safety parts for the automobile and rail sectors, such as car hubs and hub carriers, still produced to-date using low-iron primary aluminum. Taking a global approach to the issue of secondary aluminum’s high iron content, the project processes the melt with chemical alloying agents, liquid-state thermal and mechanical treatment, further thermal treatment, new part-manufacturing processes, etc.

Obtaining Secondary Aluminum through a Solid-State Process

This project lies halfway between the line of research concerned with processing new raw materials and the research area focusing on processing technology. The company is looking at integrated enhancement of fines processing in the 1-5 mm range across the various processing lines operated by the unit’s facilities. Input materials are derived from aluminum slag, compound scrap or other companies’ recycling processes sold on the market, such as white-goods fines. A pilot plant is processing 1-4 t per day of fines for subsequent briquette manufacture at Bostlan, a company running trials at the 200-500 kg scale in a pilot rotary furnace and pot at the Inasmet technology center operated by the Fundación Tecnalia.

As a long-term goal, the company is working on the potential for raising the aluminum content of fines to a level that makes them marketable to part manufacturers as briquettes of a standard composition in accord with the desired alloying, thus avoiding the need for meltdown at an aluminum refinery.

Waste Treatment and Value Recovery Program 

The aim of the program is to develop thermal waste treatment technologies and transform wastes into fuels and input materials usable in energy value recovery and recycling processes.

Some of the highlights of the company’s research and development within this program in 2010 are outlined below. 

Extracting Value from Materials through Catalytic Oxidation 

The goal of the project is to design an industrial waste pretreatment process to make waste usable as a direct fuel for an industrial catalytic oxidation facility. Applied research must be brought to bear to create a thermal waste treatment technology that, marking Europe’s first radical departure from conventional methods, achieves a high degree of catalysis so as to lower the flashpoint, speed up isothermal oxidation, and enable combustion gases to remain in the oxidative chamber over extended periods. The novel features of this technology allow for exhaustive control of gas emissions and ensure that slags will be inert, while achieving energy recovery via electricity production.

One of the key issues in developing this technology is to pre-treat wastes to create uniform physical and chemical conditions at the process entry point. Funded by CDTI in the amount of €1.4 M, the project is being undertaken in partnership with the Tekniker technology center. 

Producing Fiberglass-Reinforced Polypropylene

Befesa Plástico is developing an innovative technology to produce fiberglass-reinforced plastic. Recycled polypropylene and fiberglass waste is utilized to produce material that improves the mechanical performance of recycled plastics. The project involves building a demonstration plant capable of producing 1,000 kg/h per line. Domestic and European funding have made for a total budget of €5 M. The technology lowers carbon dioxide emissions by 60 % versus new raw materials.

Alternative Treatments and New Markets Program 

The goal here is to create and develop emerging, sustainable technologies that enable the company to diversify into new environmental markets and broaden the range of processable wastes.

Some of the highlights of its research and development within this program in 2010 are outlined below. 

Producing Biodegradable Plastics from Industrial Waste (Bioplastics) 

One of the overarching concerns of the project is to utilize petrochemical plastic wastes, sewage sludge and other wastes to obtain medium-chain polyhydroxyalkanoates (mclPHA), a high value-added biodegradable plastic.

The scope of the project embraces the construction, commissioning and operation of the first pilot plant to produce biodegradable plastics from wastes, on the basis of the lab research completed by Bioplastech, a spin-off company based in Ireland.

The project is funded at “CDTI Technology Fund Inter-Entrepreneurial Program”, and is developing in collaboration with Idesa, an Asturias-based equipment manufacturer, and Enia, an Asturias-based SME specializing in automation and control equipment. Successful completion of the project will result in a new waste recycling technology enabling the company to broaden the range of “processable” wastes and diversify its business by entering new markets, such as bioplastics.

The overall project goal is closely aligned with Abengoa’s core strategy of sustainable development by restricting raw material consumption, recycling waste, and creating biodegradable, environment-friendly products.

Viability Study for Application of Advanced Oxidation Techniques to Liquid Effluents with High DQO (Photocatalysis) 

The project is focused on the evaluation of the solar treatment techniques to detoxify the landfill´s leachates and other effluents. Specifically, the goal is to assess the ability to detoxify using advanced oxidation processes, in particular, Foto-Fenton, a process that destroys the total organic load (DQO) of a liquid via oxidation with hydroxyl groups (OH) formed by exposing hydrogen peroxide to sunlight.

The study encompasses lab tests of various effluents, and trials at a pilot plant at the Almeria Solar Platform. The company has partnered with the Ciesol (Spanish, Centro de Investigaciones de Energia Solar), a solar energy research center attached to Almeria University and the project is funded by the CTA (Spanish, Corporación Tecnologica de Andalucía) and the IDEA agency. 

Desalination Program 

This research and development program focuses on improving the efficiency of the reverse osmosis process and lowering its investment, operation and maintenance costs by reducing the cost per cubic meter of desalinated water.

Some of the highlights of the research and development department within this program in 2010 are outlined below. 

Seawater Pretreatment System using MF/UF Membranes 

This project aims to develop an advanced seawater pretreatment system using membrane technology. The company has conducted real-site tests on seawater at the pilot plant scale to evaluate the performance of commercially available micro- and ultra-filtering systems in comparison to one another and to conventional schemes. The results have then been used to design a proprietary system based on MF/UF membranes.

The project has secured grants from the Department of Innovation, Science and Enterprise of the regional government of Andalusia and from the Spanish Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs. 

Desalination Plant Remote Monitoring Project (CRIBA) 

The purpose of this particular project is to develop a remote control system affording real-time vision of the state of operation of Befesa’s desalination plants across the world. If successful, the system will be a key tool for optimizing the operation and maintenance of Befesa Agua’s plants. The company has created an IT platform for remote control and monitoring, a communications system, an information management system and a control room. Now in its demonstration phase, the platform is being tested with data from one of Befesa Agua’s desalination plants.

The project is funded by subsidies from the Department of Innovation, Science and Enterprise of the regional government of Andalusia and from the Spanish Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade’s PROFIT scheme. 

Potabilization-Purification-Reuse program

This program seeks to optimize membrane-based water treatment processes so as to save energy, produce less sludge, develop sludge treatment and elimination technologies and undertake research on supercritical oxidation.

Some of the highlights of the research and development within this program in 2010 are outlined below.

Advanced Wastewater Treatment for Reuse (TRASOS)

The ability to reuse wastewater stands to be a key factor in sustainable development, and offers high potential as an alternative source of water. The goal of this project is to optimize wastewater treatment processes by taking account of the specific type of wastewater concerned and its intended future use. The company is researching membrane technologies such as membrane bioreactors (MBRs) and micro- and ultra-filtering systems. It has also built two pilot MBR plants equipped with microfiltration membranes, and is now developing mathematical models to describe their behavior. Experimental campaigns are scheduled for 2011.

Wastewater Treatment Plant Sludge Removal using Supercritical Oxidation 

With Befesa Agua acting as coordinator, this project has been undertaken in partnership with Emasesa. The goal is to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of supercritical oxidation technology for eliminating sludge at wastewater treatment plants. The project is now at the final experimentation phase.

The project is being subsidized by the Department of Innovation, Science and Enterprise of the regional government of Andalusia, the Technology Corporation of Andalusia, and the Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs. 

Sustainability Program 

This program seeks to optimize energy use in water infrastructure, develop hydro power and marine energy capabilities, create sustainable water management models, and develop and apply sustainability criteria in the design of the company’s solutions.

Some of the highlights of the research and development within this program in 2010 are outlined below. 

Integrated and Sustainable Water Resource Management Model (MAISA) 

The aim of the project is to develop a platform to manage water resources at the hydrographic basin level, taking account of factors such as water quantity, quality and energy value. Progress has been made in designing the platform and data management modules, a hydrological simulation system and demand management for irrigation zones.

 The project is funded by CDTI via the Cenit TEcoAgua project, within the framework of the Cenit-E program.

Filtration Membranes Program

Filtration membranes have become a strategic technology for water treatment processes, and are increasingly in use for wastewater potabilization and regeneration and desalination pretreatment. The aim of this program is to develop water treatment filtration membranes.

Water Treatment Filtration Membranes Development Project 

This project is concerned with developing a high-performance ultra-filtration membrane (pore size and distribution, permeability, strength, etc.) having applications in water treatment processes (potabilization, reuse, desalination).

The initiative is funded by CDTI via its research and development projects program (PID).