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Using biotechnology to clean waste water at the source

The SPRING project is developing a cost-effective waste water treatment technology to remove pollution from stagnant and flowing water sources in India.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Polluted water is a major environmental and health issue in India. This includes a range of organic and inorganic pollutants that persist in the environment for long periods of time and pose a risk to human health. Fluoride contamination affects 19 states in India, and 10 states have reported carcinogenic compounds and arsenic in water. Typically, physicochemical methods are used to treat contaminated surface water and groundwater, but these are expensive to operate, requiring infrastructure and chemical additives and conditioners. The SPRING project, co-funded by the EU and India’s Department of Science and Technology, set out to address this unmet need. “SPRING is developing bio-oxidation technology for treating waste water from different sources,” explains India coordinator Sanjukta Patra, professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IITG) in India. “We are developing a low-cost, scalable, stable bio-oxidation based enzyme system for pollutant removal.” The integrated system, which combines bioremediation technology with real-time monitoring tools, can be installed at the source, ensuring effluent stays within safe limits. It can be deployed as an alternative to physicochemical treatments or used in combination.

Treating waste water at the source

The SPRING system is based on bio-oxidation technology, which uses an advanced enzyme-based process to break down pollutants. Patra is leading a team to investigate various eco-friendly enzymes that can treat organic pollutants such as sewage as well as inorganic pollutants originating from industries such as dying, tanning and electroplating. Following this exploratory work, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IITKGP) will develop methods for mass production of these enzymes for their use at commercial scale. The project’s EU coordinator is Rajnish Kaur Calay, a professor of Energy Systems at The Arctic University of Norway. She explains that the bio-oxidation of contaminated sites will be performed by an efficient smart bioreactor system designed and manufactured by research teams working at the University of Pécs in Hungary, INESC TEC in Portugal and Elixir in India. The SPRING team will produce at least two prototypes for demonstration in April 2024 with the support of other stakeholders, including the Bhimavaram municipality, and industry partners. The project will run several field trials in urban and rural areas. SPRING is also developing microbial fuel cell (MFC)-based novel biosensing systems to enable remote sensing of waterborne pollutants in the study area.

Progressing technology levels

Some of the systems being developed under the project are expected to reach technology readiness level (TRL) 7, and can be used in applications beyond waste water. “After demonstration, the next phase is developing the system as a commercial product, which will be done by Elixir, the industry partner participating in the project,” Calay says. “Elixir is already in discussion with local food processing and pharmaceutical industries, to make and install waste water treatment systems for their needs,” she adds. Due to travel restrictions during most of the project duration, researchers in Europe and India couldn’t visit sites mutually or visit other laboratories. However, collaborative scientific work through jointly advised PhD students was carried out at the IITG in India and Enviroinvest (website in Hungarian) in Hungary.


SPRING, India, water, bio-oxidation, enzymes, waste water, treatment, monitoring, microbial, fuel, cell

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