A novel sponge-like metal foam with the potential to safely remove harmful micropollutants from wastewater without increasing the water industry’s carbon footprint is being developed by a researcher at the University of Bath.
Micropollutants are one of the most significant public health and environmental challenges facing not only the UK but many other countries too. They are persistent and bioactive contaminants found in toxic chemicals such as pharmaceutical and personal care products, hormones, and pesticides. Micropollutants are found in wastewater at low levels, but cannot be removed from this water by conventional wastewater treatment methods. Over time, they are allowed to accumulate in groundwater and soil, disturbing the ecological balance. Eventually, they find their way into the human food supply chain where they could have severe adverse long-term health effects.
There is a pressing need for effective, efficient and low-carbon technologies to safely remove micropollutants from wastewater – the European Union has published a list of prioritized substances that are seen as a threat to surface and groundwater, which members must monitor. The impending legislation requires their removal but current technology found in the majority of wastewater treatment plants in the UK - and abroad - isn’t capable of performing the task. Significant capital investment by the water industry would also be required for plants to meet the legislature.
Photocatalysis – which uses light to catalyze a reaction that breaks organic pollutants into non-harmful components – is the most promising solution to the problem. However, given the low concentration of micropollutants and the large volumes of water that needs to be treated, it would require vast amounts of nano-sized photocatalysts. This method also presents the risk of nano-particles leaking from the water treatment plant and amassing in the environment, with potentially harmful effects.
Professor Davide Mattia from the University of Bath is currently developing a novel photocatalytic nanoporous anodic metal foam to remove micropollutants from wastewater and has been awarded a five-year Engineering, and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Established Career Fellowship in Water Engineering to further his work.
The technology uses the metal foam – a sponge-like material – and sunlight to efficiently and safely clean up the water. It replaces the nanoparticles with a highly porous photocatalytic foam which is capable of efficiently capturing all the micropollutants, while also preventing nanoparticulate material from escaping into the environment.
I am very excited at having the opportunity to address the grand challenge of micropollutant removal and am grateful to the EPSRC for their support.
I believe our anodic metal foams represent an innovative and practical solution that water companies will be able to integrate in their existing infrastructure without radical changes, thereby lowering the barriers to their adoption.
Davide Mattia, Professor of Chemical Engineering - Department of Chemical Engineering, Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering and Water Innovation & Research Centre
The researcher will work with academic and industrial partners to retrofit current water treatment plants to house this new technology: “We hope this will result in a more effective way of removing micropollutants in water without increasing carbon emissions or producing toxic by-products,” Mattia states.
It is fantastic that Professor Mattia gets this opportunity for this exciting research for developing fundamentally new technology for organic micropollutant removal.
Removal of these compounds from drinking water and wastewater is extremely important for public health and aquatic life. The water sector has great need for innovations in this field, which Professor Mattia’s research can provide.
Professor Jan Hoffman, Director of WIRC @ Bath
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