Daphne water solutions for the removal of emerging pollutants from wastewater: market assessment and technical feasibility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


Environmental pollution caused by chemicals is acknowledged by the European Commission as an environmental problem. Legislative measures to limit the impact of pharmaceuticals on human and environmental health will take place in the second half of 2018 (Directive 2013/39/EU), whereas new regulations for pesticide use will be determined by the outcome of the Water Framework Directive in 2020. Existing technologies for the removal of pharmaceuticals (ozonation, chlorination and UV treatment) are inefficient, require specialized infrastructures, and a constant energy supply. Technologies for the removal of pesticides from wastewater are somewhat more effective. However, as for pharmaceuticals, the elimination of pesticides requires special infrastructures and/or filtration systems and it is energy demanding.
Dr Orsini has tested and optimized an environmentally friendly and cost-effective biological solution for the removal of pharmaceuticals and pesticides from wastewaters in laboratory environments. As compared to human-engineered structures, this solution is highly effective, requires minimal infrastructures, and has minimal energy demand. The solution uses the naturally occurring, active filter feeder Daphnia as a removal agent, capitalizing on its ability to metabolize chemicals following the active filtering of the surrounding medium. Laboratory experiments show that Daphnia is twice as efficient as bacteria or algae, reaching complete removal within a few days. The purpose of this Pathfinder is to plan the full development to market of DWS through a market assessment, the identification of an industrial partner supporting a feasibility study and the identification of practical solutions for the implementation of DWS in existing wastewater plant workflows.

The pathfinder has the following four objectives:
1. To commission an independent market assessment
2. To confirm target end-users and secure early-adopters.
3. To engage with early adopters to identify infrastructure adjustments needed to introduce DWS into a typical workflow of wastewater treatment plants. Understanding the end user needs for early adoption will clarify whether a consultancy service that provides expert known how and implementation support is the preferred pathway to market for DWS.
4. To identify an industrial partner among the end users that is ready to provide in-kind support and a field site for a feasibility study

With the regulation of pharmaceuticals in wastewater soon in place, the government, local authorities and industry will be required to implement solutions for the removal of chemicals from wastewater. Current solutions for the removal of pharmaceuticals have an efficiency removal of about 50%, a retention time of weeks, and energy consumption above 1.2.kW/m. Moreover, they require the installation of medium to large infrastructures and produce waste, which disposal imposes additional costs and impacts on human and environmental health.
As compared to engineered solutions, DWS uses natural biological resources, requires minimal infrastructures consisting of a containment cage surrounded by a fine mesh, and does not produce secondary waste. Daphnia removed periodically from the cages will generate energy in the form of fertilizers and/or fish food. Therefore, DWS has high potential for solving the problems of water sanitation and water quality in both developed and developing countries.

Keywords: pharmaceutical removal, wastewater, surface water, bioremediation, water utilities, technology consultancy

Stakeholders: UoB, School of Biosciences, Birmingham Water Council, water utilities, technology and innovation consultancy agencies, policy makers, NGOs, EFSA, DEFRA, European Commission, USEPA

Planned Impact

The proposed application will identify the market needs and confirm the target end users for DWS, enabling the identification of an industrial partner for a follow-on fund application with NERC, in which the feasibility of DWS will be assessed in real world applications.
DWS offers the water industry, our most immediate stakeholder, an environmental friendly, cost-effective solution that removes pharmaceuticals and pesticides from wastewater with minimal infrastructure and energy requirements. DWS offers consultancy agencies, such as Isle Utilities, the opportunity to promote a clean technology for water sanitation with applications both in developed and developing countries.
The biological solution proposed here will benefit NGOs involved in delivering clean water solutions. These non-profit organizations develop, implement and disseminate decentralised sustainable technologies and social measures for water, wastewater, energy and waste. They are playing a pivotal role in developing countries, where affordable and easy to implement solutions are much needed to improve the livelihood of citizens with adequate sanitation systems. The ongoing dialogue with BORDA, a non for profit organization delivering solutions for water sanitation in developing countries, suggest that there is a potential market for DWS in developing countries.
The periodical removal of Daphnia from containment cages in secondary treatment tanks will generate energy in the form of fertilizers and/or fish food. As the pharmaceuticals and pesticides are broken down by Daphnia via metabolization, the zooplankter can be up-converted in energy in the food chain.
The success of DWS will provide all stakeholders including governmental agencies at national and international level, with an environmental friendly solution for the removal of chemicals from waste and surface waters, a growing concern worldwide.
The presence of pharmaceuticals and pesticides in waste and surface water is an acknowledged global issue. At any time, mixtures of chemicals, detectable in nano to micrograms, are found in municipal wastewater effluents. The activate sludge process in current wastewater treatment plants is removing only a small proportion of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, therefore these chemicals released in the environment are biomagnified over time and bioaccumulated through the food chain. Examples of the impact of pharmaceuticals on human and wildlife are worrying. High concentration of antibiotics in wastewater leads to antibiotic resistance and the spreading of antibiotic resistant genes in nature. Antibiotic resistance is responsible for increasingly hard to treat outbreaks caused by resistant bacteria strains (e.g. MRSA and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis). The presence of oestrogens in surface water induce feminization in male fish, directly affecting the fish farming industry. The presence of pesticides such as Roundup (Monsanto) have emerged recently. In summer 2018 the first lawsuit against Monsanto ruled that the company was responsible for producing a weed killer allegedly responsible for causing cancer. Our regulators have come to realize that the issue of pharmaceuticals, and chemicals in general, in the environment has to be addressed to reduce risks for human health and costs for healthcare. Current solutions for the removal of chemicals from water are inefficient, costly and produce waste that has to be disposed of at additional costs. DWS has the potential to address the shortcomings of current solutions, providing both health and economic benefits to all citizens.


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Description The water industry internationally is interested in the biotechnology that may result from the science discoveries rooted in NERC science.
Exploitation Route the biotechology optimized in the laboratory may be scaled up to use in rural and ecentralized communitites, benefiting among others LMIC
Sectors Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description the findings have been used to identify industrial partners for the commercialization of DWS
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Environment
Impact Types Societal