Water: Quality More Than Quantity

Camilo Sánchez (ESR8)

Did you know that the water amount on the planet has always been the same, and it just recycles over and overtime?

In other words, the water is used nowadays is the same water that our ancient civilizations consumed. Although the water bulk has been the same over the centuries, its quality has not remained the same.

Water recycles through different processes that integrate the water cycle as follows: evaporation from rivers, lakes, and oceans; condensation on the clouds; precipitation as rain and/or snow; and collection to rivers, lakes, and oceans. However, with the fast-growing population and industrial development, water quality has deteriorated over time.

Every day, thousands of new chemicals are developed for different applications. At the same time, they are discharged into the environment without regulation, polluting the water sources. Among the various pollutants released into the environment, organic micropollutants (OMPs) have gained special attention recently because they are persistent. Some of them bioaccumulate over time, representing a threat to aquatic life and human health. These OMPs, mainly pharmaceuticals, personal care products, disinfection by-products, and endocrine disrupters, are not easily removed by conventional wastewater treatment plants.

So, what are we doing to tackle this issue?

In the Nowelties project, we are developing new processes and techniques for gaining valuable information about the identification, transformation, and removal of OMPs in water. The first step is to find a way to identify and quantify these OMPs, as . Once the identification techniques are developed, transformation and removal of OMPs can be done applying different approaches such as biological treatments, oxidation processes, or hybrid systems.

For example, Silvana, Ana Paulina, and Edwin are using biological approaches to understand how microorganisms can uptake, transform and remove OMPs, while Sabrina and Michele are developing hybrid systems in which they combine biological and physicochemical processes. In the case of oxidation processes, a wide range of technologies is being studied to transform and remove OMPs. Nikoletta is using ozone combined with membrane filtration; Amit applies cold plasma and even developed a super cool reactor. Nebojša is running an ultrasound system. Francis and I are working with a catalyst (TiO2) activated with solar radiation, while Danilo is developing a new reactor concept for TiO2. Finally, but not less important, Marina and Barbara are using adsorption processes applying different absorbents.

At the end of the project, all the different strategies will be compared to identify which technologies are more suitable according to a target compound (OMP). All this information collected from the project combined with other research projects that are conducted in the removal of OMPs could be helpful input to support future regulations that avoid the continuous degradation of water quality.

Image source: https://unsplash.com/photos/uMLKLCmlAk0, Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash