Engineers use electricity to clean up toxic water

Engineers have used a powerful electrochemical process to destroy water contaminants. It could help clean up heavily polluted wastewater from wineries, pharmaceutical companies and other industries.

A team of engineers may be one step closer to cleaning up heavily contaminated industrial wastewater streams, announced a statement.

Researchers from the University of Sydney have developed an electrochemical oxidation process with the aim of cleaning up complex wastewater that contains a toxic cocktail of chemical pollutants.

“Our study, published in Algal Research, involved industrial wastewater that had been heavily contaminated with a cocktail of organic and inorganic species during a biofuel production process”, said PhD student Julia Ciarlini Jungers Soares, in the statement.

The wastewater, which contained carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, was generated in a pilot plant, designed by the team for the production of biofuels using naturally abundant microalgae.

The process involved treating wastewater with electricity using specialised electrodes. They discharged electricity, then drove oxidation reactions near the electrode surfaces, transforming the organic contaminants into harmless gasses, ions or minerals, explains the statement.

“We have employed an incredibly powerful process that eliminates 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,” continued Soares.

Wastewater is a significant issue for the environment, as well as for many industries who use substantial volumes of water in their processes. Finding suitable solutions for reuse or disposal is often very challenging and costly.

The electrochemical method used by the researchers can be applied to industries that must comply with strict regulations for wastewater disposal, such as pulp and paper processing, wineries, and pharmaceutical production facilities.

The team will soon carry out research focused on specific contaminants to better understand the chemical transformations that take place during electrochemical oxidation and will upscale the process.

Photo credit: IWMI Flickr Photos/ Flickr Creative Commons

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