Using Electricity To Clean Toxic Water

November 2, 2021

A team of engineers can be one step closer to cleaning up heavily polluted industrial wastewater streams.

Researchers at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Sydney (Australia) developed an electrochemical oxidation process with the aim of cleaning complex wastewater that contained a toxic cocktail of chemical contaminants.

“Our study, published in the journal  Algal Research , concerned industrial wastewater that had been heavily contaminated with a cocktail of organic and inorganic species during a biofuel production process,” said Julia Ciarlini Jungers Soares, who is completing a PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Alejandro Montoya.

The wastewater, which contained carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, was generated in a pilot plant, designed by the team for biofuel production using naturally abundant microalgae. The process involves treating wastewater with electricity using specialized electrodes. They discharged electricity, and then conducted oxidation reactions near the electrode surfaces, transforming organic pollutants into harmless gases, ions, or minerals.

“We have used an incredibly powerful process that removes even the most persistent non-biodegradable pollutants, such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides, as well as various classes of organic compounds that can be found in many industrial effluents,” he said. “The process is relatively simple, does not require the addition of chemicals or harsh operating conditions, and does not produce additional waste streams.”

“Wastewater is a major problem for our environment, as well as for many industries that use substantial volumes of water in their processes, such as reactions, transportation, and washing and cooling. Finding suitable solutions for reuse or disposal is often very difficult and expensive.

“The electrochemical method we use can easily be applied to industries that must meet strict regulations for wastewater disposal, such as pulp and paper processing, warehouses, as well as pharmaceutical production facilities.”

‘Around the world, researchers are investigating methods for developing biofuels from algae. The development of alternatives for the treatment and reuse of this industrial effluent is a hot research topic and may provide opportunities for energy and resource recovery in a circular bioeconomy framework.

The team will soon conduct research focused on specific pollutants to better understand the chemical transformations that take place during electrochemical oxidation and expand the process.

Dr. Loony Davis5
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Born and raised in Brussels in an English family, I have always lived in a multicultural environment. After several work experiences in marketing and communication, I came to Smart Water Magazine, which I describe as the most exciting challenge of my career.
I am a person with great restlessness and curiosity to learn, discover what I do not know, as well as reinvent myself daily, someone who is curious about life and wants to know. I enjoy sharing knowledge.
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