Ryerson University

Student-designed Wastewater Treatment Uses MBR with Advanced Oxidation

Ryerson University 

Ryerson University fourth-year Chemical Engineering students (from left) Pawel Kita, Charles Gilmour, Reuben Fernandes and Kirill Cheiko designed an award-winning advanced wastewater treatment system for the removal of pharmaceuticals. Photo courtesy of Dario Ruberto/Ryerson University.

Four Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) chemical engineering students have discovered a potential solution to the rising levels of pharmaceuticals ending up in the water supply, according to a release from the university. They designed an advanced wastewater treatment system that would remove 90 percent of pharmaceuticals and endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) using commercially available technology.

As part of their final-year undergraduate project, Kirill Cheiko, Reuben Fernandes, Charles Gilmour and Pawel Kita used research data from academic and industry sources to design an award-winning simulated wastewater treatment plant to deal with the potentially harmful waste.

“In Canada, the government doesn’t enforce the removal of pharmaceutical drugs and EDCs, including Bisphenol A, from wastewater. As a result, municipalities don’t currently pursue removal, since it would incur extra expense,” said Cheiko. “That said, it could also potentially reduce health-care costs.”

Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs are flushed down the toilet. Others cannot be fully metabolized by the body and are eliminated soon after administration. While the rate of elimination varies (at least 5 percent of acetaminophen and up to 80 percent of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin), the final result is the same: biologically resistant contaminants end up in municipal wastewater.

The students’ proposed innovative design uses two processes in combination: First, wastewater is subjected to membrane biological reactors. This activity increases the amount of bacteria already present in the treatment process and makes them “hungrier.” Second, sewage goes through an advanced oxidization process. Typically used to treat drinking water, this process works like an antioxidant does in the body: it destroys harmful toxins. But whereas most wastewater treatment plants use chlorine as a disinfectant, the students proposed using ultraviolet light (UV) and hydrogen peroxide for the purposes of advanced oxidation and disinfection. Normally, UV light would be unable to penetrate murky wastewater, but after undergoing the membrane biological reactor, liquid waste in the students’ simulated wastewater treatment plants would be clear enough to permit the use of UV light. Afterwards, the students concluded, the wastewater would be clean enough to go straight into lakes and rivers.

The students and faculty adviser Professor Manuel Alvarez Cuenca are seeking funding to test the proposal in Ryerson’s Laboratory of Water Treatment Technologies. They also recommend, however, that municipalities conduct their own research and set up pilot studies around hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The group’s project, Treating Pharmaceuticals and Endocrine Disruptors at the Source: An Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant Design, placed first for Social Awareness and received an honorable mention for innovative design at the 2010 Ontario Engineering Competition in Waterloo, Ontario.

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