Researchers from the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have developed a new technology that uses sunlight to give wastewater treatment plants an environmentally-friendly option for micropollutant removal.

A researcher from the University of Bath, Professor Davide Mattia, has been awarded a five-year fellowship in water engineering to develop a new, more efficient way for the water industry to safely remove micropollutants from water and reduce human health issues in the future.

The problem with micropollutants

Micropollutants found in toxic chemicals such as  drugs, hormones and pesticides are present in wastewater at very low concentrations.

Micropollutants slowly accumulate in the soil and in groundwater, upsetting the ecological balance and eventually finding their way into the human food supply chain, with a potential to cause severe long-term health effects.

Current technology is not capable of removing micropollutants from wastewater during the treatment process.

As such, there is an urgent need for efficient, effective and low-carbon technologies capable of safely removing these micropollutants from the water.

One technology that is addressing this problem is photocatalysis — where light is used to speed up a reaction which breaks down organic pollutants to non-harmful constituents.

While this method is effective, the large amount of nano-sized photocatalyst particles required have the potential to leak from the water treatment plant and accumulate in the environment.

New technology preventing environmental impact

Professor Mattia’s team is working on new technology that entirely foregoes the use of nanoparticles by replacing them with a highly porous photocatalytic foam which creates an efficient method of capturing all the micropollutants whilst preventing nanoparticulate material leaching into the environment.

Led by Professor Mattia, researchers have produced a novel photocatalytic nanoporous anodic metal foam that utilises sunlight to remove pollutants.

The sponge-like substance uses sunlight to transform organic pollutants to non-harmful constituents — a much safer and more environmentally sensitive option than existing technologies.

Professor Mattia will be working with academic and industrial partners to retrofit existing water treatment plants to accommodate 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,”  Professor Mattia said.

“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.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to address  the grand challenge of micropollutant removal.”

University of Bath Water Innovation and Research Centre Director, Professor Jan Hofman, said Professor Mattia’s development is a much-needed solution for the water industry worldwide.

“It is fantastic that Professor Mattia gets this opportunity for this exciting research, to develop fundamentally new technology for organic micropollutant removal,” Professor Hofman said.

“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.” 

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