OLITREVA INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: Olive Mill Waste Treatment and Valorization

The Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), led by the Water and Environmental Research Unit, in partnership with the Technology Transfer Center Bremerhaven - Germany (TTZ Bremerhaven) ,The University of Extremadura-Spain and The Institute on Membrane Technology (CNR-ITM)-Italy, convened the international conference for the OLITREVA project, “Capacity Building For Sustainable Treatment and Valorization of Olive Mill Waste in Palestine” that washeld from 19th to 20th  November 2014, in the Jacir Palace Hotel- Bethlehem. The project is supported by the EU under the Seventh Framework Research Programme FP7.

The conference was also organized with the participation of Dr. Fahoum Shalabi, Assistant Deputy for Higher Education, Tanya DIMITROVA Project officer-European Commission DG Research & Innovation, Mr. Jameel Mtour the Deputy Chairman of the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority, Dr. Nasri Qumsieh, the President of ARIJ Board of Directors, and the General Director of ARIJ Dr. Jad Isaac. It was attended by representatives of local and national authorities as well as representatives of local, national and international non-governmental organizations, Universities, olive-oil associations, and Palestinian Researchers.

The conference highly contributed to disseminating the project's results; transferring the gained knowledge; exchanging ideas and presenting the latest research works in the field of Olive Mill Waste Treatment and Valorization.

The conference was opened with the Palestinian National Anthem followed by the project Coordinator Jane Hilal presenting a welcoming speech and providing a brief description of the objectives and  activities of the project. Dr. Nasri Qumsiyeh, Chairman of ARIJ also spoke, emphasizing the importance of this conference as it was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education along with international participants of the EU administration, all working with the shared goals of reaching an environmentally-friendly management approach capable of dealing with the waste generated from olive mills in Palestine through promoting scientific research in this area.

Dr. Fahoum Shalabi, Assistant Deputy for Higher Education, then thanked the efforts of (ARIJ) on this initiative, recognizing the importance of the conference and its results and the significance of treating the olive mills waste, emphasizing that the ministry pays great attention to scientific development and research, and aims to keep up with global progress in the field of science and knowledge; particularly working in the direction of sustainable development in Palestine.

Dr. Tanya Dimitrova, European Union Representative-office and project officer for OLIVTREVA, emphasized that despite the improvements in the field of research and innovation in Palestine, this conference can result in a significant step in encouraging creativity; specifically that Palestinian research can play a key role in finding solutions and acknowledging that this project can be used as a step in a positive direction to achieve solutions for the environmental challenges currently faced. Dr. Dimitorva also presented the Horizon 2020 EU Research and Innovation Programme as well as the opportunities of the Palestine to participate in such programme

Dr. Jad Isaac, General Director of (ARIJ), highlighted the importance of the conference since it is considered the first of its kind in Palestine and it represents an important opportunity for knowledge-sharing of Palestinian and European expertise and for promoting innovation in the Mediterranean area. He also added that the olive oil sector contributes significantly to the National Palestinian Economy, where olive tree cultivated areas in the West Bank covers approximately half the planted area; contributing  about 15% of the agricultural income and about 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP).  He also addressed that olive mills in the Mediterranean area generating large amounts of both wastewater and solid waste that in some cases are not treated properly, and that this is considered a major challenge for the Mediterranean countries since it has been proven through many studies that these residues, if not properly managed, can result in the contamination of both surface and ground water resources, resulting in soil degradation and distortion of the natural environment. He added that the project represented an integrated approach covering all aspects toward a proper environmental management approach that deals with wastes from olive mills and proposes guidance for solutions that could be applied in Palestine.

At the first conference a study was presented by Engineer Adel Yassin, director of the Water and Sanitation Department at the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA), which explained relevant Palestinian laws and regulations, highlighting the weaknesses and gaps in the legislation and clarifying the different roles and responsibilities between the various authorities in charge; highlighting at the same time the important role that each involved ministry played in the sector.

Dr. Isam Sabah from the Galilee Society Institute for Applied Research emphasized the risks resulting from the improper disposal of olive mill wastes in the Middle East. He also presented the most important concepts for the management and treatment of those wastes; presenting the experience of the Galilee Society in the development of biological, physical and chemical techniques for liquid olive mill waste treatment.  He also addressed the necessary administrative framework, and how it can be connected with modern technologies in an environmentally friendly management approach.

In turn, Engineer Samia Abdul Hadi from Hwakir Foundation – Nazareth presented a scientific paper focused on the crust resulted from spraying olive mill liquid waste on the soil as a type treatment if considered that there is no an economic and practical treatment for those wastes.

Dr. Awni Khatib from Hebron University explained the environmental risks that can result from the dumping of olive mill wastes if disposed without being treated.  He also presented the University experience in the field of environmental research, renewable energy and in the field of developing a treatment plant for sludge by reducing the chemical oxygen demand (COD), in which a reduction in the pollution parameters will result in a reduction of the environmental risks.

Dr. Antonio Lopez-Piñeiro from The University of Extremadura - Spain , presented a research study and experiment on the effect of fresh two-phase olive mill waste on the absorption – desorption and leaching of MCPA herbicide when applied to Mediterranean soils. His presentation highlighted that those wastes can contribute to increasing the organic material in the soils, a factor of great importance, especially because Mediterranean soils in many cases are considered poor in organic content.

Engineer Elias Abu Mohor From The Water and Environment Unit at The Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) presented a research experiment and study on how solid wastes from olive mills can be used as a tool to improve soil's capacity in degrading herbicides, contributing at the same time in the protection of groundwater from the negative effects that can result from those herbicides if infiltrated to the aquifers. It should be noted that both research studies presented by both Dr. Antonio Lopez-Piñeiro and Engineer Elias Abu Mohor, were done as a joint research activity within the OLITREVA project framework.

Prof. Gerhard Schories of TTZ Bremerhaven spoke about the German experience in olive mill waste treatment and energy production from those wastes, reviewing one of those methods that adopted anaerobic treatment of wastes with high organic matter concentration, demonstrating that it can result in a biological way to obtain methane and organic fertilizer. Furthermore, he discussed the topic of wastewaters from olives processing, representatively for Ms Valentina Bordei, who could not join the conference.

Dr. Alberto Figoli, Dr. Alfredo Cassano, Dr. Alesandra Criscuoli , and Dr. Maria Concetta Carnevale from Institute on Membrane Technology (CNR-ITM)-Italy, presented the research results that were obtained using the membrane technology and its applications in the treatment of liquid wastes resulting from olive mills. It should be noted that this research was done as part of the OLITREVA project activities.

Engineer Ayed Abdul Aziz from ARIJ talked about the interventions carried out by the Institute through a project entitled "From Field to Market", that targeted reducing the production costs and increasing farms' productivity and profitability in the olive sector in Palestine through rejuvenation of aging olive trees, supplemental irrigation, the use of automated harvesting techniques, and in the reduction of percentages of lost oil that can result from bad processing.

Also Dr. Leonardo Piccinetti - Reddin Center Italy reviewed a similar experience to promote and raise the capabilities of scientific research in the fields of agriculture, food and water.

The audience actively participated, emphasizing the importance of scientific research and considering it as a positive step in the direction of reaching economic stability based on knowledge and innovation and at the same time promoting cooperation and networking with European science and technology entities related to the field of research and innovation. Also among researchers recommendations including the importance of dissemination of studies and experiments that were presented and discussed during the international conference, especially within The Palestinian Territory since there is an urgent need to develop the sector, and significant efforts are needed to achieve an environmentally sound management approach capable of handling environmental friendly all generated byproducts generated from the olive mill processing. The audience also emphasized the importance of governing ministries in taking the lead in joining efforts with the different stakeholders that include civil society, local organizations, Palestinian universities and researchers, who were all needed to overcome the environmental challenges currently faced.