Researchers investigate new processes to remove pharmaceuticals from water

18 February 2015

GCU researchers have expertise in water treatment

GCU researchers have expertise in water treatment

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers are investigating the removal of pharmaceuticals from waste water by anaerobic digestion, in a new £147,000 project funded by the European Commission. 

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a series of natural biological process whereby organic waste material, such as waste water and sewage sludge, is broken down by micro-organisms and converted into biogas, which can be used as an alternative source of energy to replace fossil fuels.

Since the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted in 2000, reduction of pollution and river water quality improvement has become a major focus in the management of water resources throughout Europe.

At the same time, improved analytical capabilities and ecotoxicological understanding has highlighted new threats to water quality. Micropollutants in the form of pharmaceutical residues (PR) are one such emerging threat, and have been included in the most recent list of WFD priority and related watch-list substances.

In the new project, entitled ‘PHARMA AD’, researchers will investigate the efficacy of anaerobic digestion for the removal of these residues, and the application of AD to the direct treatment of waste waters rich in these pollutants (from hospitals or industry).

As anaerobic digestion does not remove nutrients, the project will combine pharmaceutical residues removal by AD with biological nutrient removal by micro-algae cultivation.

PHARMA AD is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship, an EU programme for researcher mobility awarding €6 billion in the period to 2020 to support research training and career development focused on innovation skills.

Ania Escudero, a researcher in environmental science at the Neiker-Tecnalia Basque Institute for Agricultural Research and Development in Spain, will join a research team at GCU for two years.

The team aims to contribute to the European aims of water protection and resource efficiency by working with European industry and university partners.

Ania will work with Professor Ole Pahl, an environmental engineer from GCU’s School of Engineering and Built Environment and Institute for Sustainable Engineering and Technology Research, who is working on a £7 million study to raise awareness of the presence of pharmaceutical residues in waste water and explore new methods of reducing them.

The European Union funded research project ‘noPILLS’ is focused on raising awareness of the residue medicines and other pharmaceutical products leave in water when they pass through the human body, or are washed off.

Professor Pahl said: “This new inter-disciplinary project will strengthen GCU collaboration with researchers from different scientific, industry and EU regional backgrounds and contribute to the European aims of water protection and resource efficiency.”