Workshop on Roadmapping of Quantitative Understanding of Cleaning & Decontamination

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Cleaning and decontamination are ubiquitous operations in the home, healthcare and industry. The removal of unwanted residues from surfaces in order to avoid cross-contamination between products (e.g. in the kitchen, food or pharmaceutical manufacture), the removal of fouling layers to return surfaces to their original condition or level of performance (e.g. from windows, walls or heat exchangers), or the elimination of organisms and biofilms from surgical instruments (e.g. in healthcare) have historically been tackled by 'tried and tested' approaches which have been developed over time. Such empirical approaches are unlikely to be suitable for the new cleaning and decontamination challenges which the UK and many other nations face, which include
(a) New soils and surfaces. The food industry is subject to continuous innovation as it seeks to supply nutritious food subject to evolving guidance on ingredients, allergens and consumer requirements. Elsewhere, the NHS and other healthcare providers are regularly challenged by different organisms comprising the hygienic status of patient facilities.
(b) Dangerous soils. The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 was followed by many months of work to decontaminate the Skripal's house and other items and locations which had come into contact with the Novichok substance. The UK nuclear industry faces a range of new cleaning and decontamination cases associated with the decommissioning of reactors and fuel reprocessing plants. Determining how to clean these effectively without extensive testing is critical as the materials used to clean the surfaces are themselves contaminated: trials are very costly in time and resources.
(c) Limited resources. Many cleaning operations employ large volumes of clean water, often heated and often containing cleaning agents. The sustainability of many food manufacturing operations is determined by the time spent cleaning (reducing productivity) and the cost of providing, preparing and treating this water.

This workshop will establish the state of the art in quantitative modelling of cleaning and decontamination operations in the UK and beyond. It will bring together experts from different disciplines and industries to maximise the sharing of existing knowledge and capture the challenges on the horizon. A key deliverable is the creation of a roadmap to guide future research in this area.

It will take the form of a 2.5 day physical meeting in September 2020 followed by a 1 day web-conference of the organisers in early November 2020 where the summaries will be finalised.
Day 1 will focus on establishing the state of the art (or science) in related disciplines, with a series of keynote presentations by invited speakers on topics ranging from mathematical methods to experimental techniques and data methods. These will be interspersed by sessions with short oral presentations by active researchers in order to highlight ongoing work, and ferment networking. The emphasis will be on current work.
Day 2 will focus on challenges, with invited presentations from industry (including food, pharma and nuclear), government (e.g. DSTL, DEFRA) and services (e.g. water, hospitals). Each presentation will be followed by a discussion of the quantitative elements involved, focusing on gaps in existing science and issues arising in testing, modelling and resources.
Day 3 will bring learnings together to identify priorities in research and future work for the roadmap.

The findings from the Workshop will be made available on a publicly available archive.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?

The Workshop will firstly be of direct benefit to the degegates, who will include stakeholders and research experts from academia, industry and government with interest in cleaning and decontamination problems. Specific examples include

(i) the food sector, where cleaning and decontamination operations are esssential, daily tasks required to ensure food is safe to eat as well as nutritious;

(ii) the pharmaceutial sector, where cleaning is needed to ensure integrity between batches and avoid cross-contamination;

(iii) the defence/security services, where decontamination is needed to protect public health. Developing quantitative approaches will help to minimise the amount of testing of very hazardous materials required to develop cleaning and decontamination protocols;

(iv) the health/hospital sector, where cleaning is needed periodically to ensure microbiological security in areas where people have reduced resilience and ability to fight infection;

(v) the nuclear industry, where the decommissioning of reactors and processing facilities required over the next decade will benefit from the transfer of techniques from other sectors. Mathematical methods are urgently needed in this sphere to minimise empirical (and potentially hazardous) testing.

The website will make the benefits available to the wider communities with interests in each area.

The Roadmap will provide a strategic summary of existing cleaning and decontamination research as well as needs and challenges which will be of value to researchers working in the various areas, companies and government agencies considering how they should direct their research efforts, and government bodies who need to respond to these strategic needs.

How might they benefit from this research?

The sharing of existing expertise and increased awareness of past and ongoing activity will allow the delegates and visitors to the website to establish the current state of the 'art', and identify where there are gaps in the fundamental scientific understanding of cleaning and decontamination. This is a topic where awareness of activities in other areas is often poor or patchy, as the knowledge developed for specific fields is often steered by chemistry and microbiological factors specific to those fields. This means that the underlying physical principles needed for proper modelling are masked by empiricism: this is acceptable for optimising practice in specific fields, but is not suitable for developing cleaning and disinfection methods or protocols for new situations, operating at different scales, or when the availability of resources changes.

The knowledge gained will both save duplication of effort (e.g. by encouraging transfer of existing findings from one case to another) and help to focus resources on key problems which have widespread application. It will encourage collaborations between exisiting groups working in related fields, and between these groups and stakeholders from other sectors who did not realise that solutions and approaches existed elsewhere. It will also encourage new activity, as parties recognise the opportunities available through working together on existing and new problems.

All the parties share an underpinning need to improve the sustainability of their cleaning and decontamination practices. Traditional approaches often require large amounts of clean solvent or fresh water, as well as significant amounts of chemical and thermal energy. Understanding how cleaning and decontamination processes work is key to improving the environmental impact, and quantitative methods are essential for transferring this learning, analysing data from tests, planning new tests and optimising designs or operations.


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