Engineers Use Electricity to Clean up Wastewater

July 7, 2020

Researchers developed an electrochemical oxidation process to clean up complex wastewater 

Researchers from the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering developed an electrochemical oxidation process to clean up complex wastewater. 

This wastewater contained a toxic cocktail of chemical pollutants, according to Phys Org.

The study, published in Algal Research, involved industrial wastewater that had been heavily contaminated with organic and inorganic species during a biofuel production process, according to Julia Ciarlini Jungers Soares, who is completing a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Alejandro Montoya.

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

The process involved treating wastewater with electricity using specialized electrodes. The team discharged electricity and drove oxidation reactions near the electrode surfaces, transforming the organic contaminants into harmless gasses, ions or minerals.

"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," said Soares. "The process is relatively simple, does not require the addition of chemicals or severe operation conditions, and does not produce additional waste streams.” 

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

"Finding suitable solutions for reuse or disposal is often very challenging and costly," Soares said. "The electrochemical method that we used can be readily applied to industries that must comply with strict regulations for wastewater disposal, such as pulp and paper processing, wineries, as well as pharmaceutical production facilities."

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