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CARBOSORB - Carbon (Nano) Sorbents for Environmental Remediation

Final Report Summary - CARBOSORB (CARBOSORB - Carbon (Nano) Sorbents for Environmental Remediation)

Background: Project remit and rationale

The aim of the Carbosorb project was to develop and manufacture permeable composite “filters” in which carbon-rich nanoparticles (or nanoporous materials) are embedded (and contained in a recyclable 3D structure), and use these as the basis of recyclable, high performance water clean-up devices, for application in the environmental and industrial sectors (http://www.brighton.ac.uk/carbosorb/index.html).

Work performed

The project drew together a multidisciplinary consortium of specialists from academia and industry, working in different areas of environmental (geo)chemistry, nanotechnology and physical, analytical, synthetic, polymer and surface chemistry, with a common aim of developing new and efficient methods of contaminant removal from surface and groundwaters, drinking waters and trade and industrial effluent. Specifically, the project combined the contaminated land, geochemical, nanotechnology and surface chemistry expertise of the lead team at the University of Brighton (UoB), with the analytical characterisation skills of the University of Barcelona (Barcelona) and experience of Lund University (Lund) in waste water cleaning to develop, test and produce innovative, nanoparticle-based water clean-up technologies, in partnership with the SME Protista Biotechnology AB (Protista), who provided developmental and large-scale manufacturing support in macroporous polymer-based composites and MAST Carbon International Ltd (MAST), who provided expertise in the development, characterisation and mass production of novel carbon-based particles and materials. Work was organised into 6 work packages, designed to take the produced devices from prototype, through testing, characterisation and risk assessment, to scaled-up application:

Results achieved and impact

Five initial device prototypes were developed in WP1 (figure 1), using MPPS polymer (cryogel) and phenolic-resin derived activated carbon substrates produced by Protista and MAST. Device performance for extraction of a range of organic contaminants from aqueous solution (including azo dyes, atrazine, malathion, estrogens, and metaldehyde – identified as target chemical contaminants during Project Management Group meetings and via liaison with stakeholder groups in project events and other knowledge exchange meetings) has been examined based on preconcentration and optimised chromatographic/mass spectrometric methods developed in WP2, as has the adsorptive performance for mixed contaminant wastes (i.e. organic contaminants plus heavy metals such as Cr, metalloids such as As and anions such as PO4), to examine device applicability for the widest range of environmental contaminants. The analysis of cryogel and activated carbon porous structure and nanoparticle distribution using confocal microscopy, SEM, TEM and other techniques has shown that most of the pores are interconnected and nanoparticles in or on the composite material are evenly distributed as individual particles and aggregates, forming reactive surfaces available for interaction with contaminants (figure 2). Assessment of biocompatibility of the devices and potential ecotoxicological impacts associated with their use has been undertaken using cell assays, and indicated minimal ecotoxicological risk.

Upscaling of devices has focussed on development of larger volume or mass producible materials, capable of effective operation at larger water flow volumes. These devices have been tested against a range of realistic environmental media (e.g. sewage wastes, river water etc). Recycling has proven effective using steam regeneration and other elution methods. Cryogel-carbon composite devices have been produced at larger sizes and shapes (e.g. 270mm x 17mm disks) allowing stacking in cylindrical holders, while attrition-resistant phenolic resin derived activated carbon beads allow application in moving beds or column mode. The latter have shown exceptional properties for the adsorption of metaldehyde, a priority pollutant where there is no current solution to achieve legal consent levels. Project partners UoB and MAST are currently working with the UK water industry to test this technology at larger flow rates typical of large-scale water treatment facilities. The technologies produced during the project have been designed to tackle key problem contaminants as identified by industry. Currently there are few viable techniques to reduce concentrations of problem, emerging contaminants such as estrogens and metaldehyde in treated water to acceptable levels. The twin drivers of legislation (being brought in under the EU Water Framework Directive) and growing public awareness of the dangers of specific contaminants is forcing the water industry to tighten standards and new technologies are needed to achieve this. Carbosorb has produced a low cost, low energy suite of technologies which fit in well with market conditions in terms of the drive towards sustainability and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Moving forward, producing practical water remediation technologies will benefit to all European citizens, economy, agriculture and industry and will place Europe in a leading position in the area of novel carbon-based remediation devices and technologies.

Four major networking events have been held to help to target the work programme, and disseminate project data, in Brighton, Barcelona and Lund, attended by 177 external delegates. The consortium has also provided the Marie Curie Fellows with a range of training opportunities including: Complementary skills acquisition; In-house training in a range of analytical techniques at partner institutions; Opportunities for young researchers to present their work at project meetings, external conferences and project conferences; opportunities for fellows to liaise and work with experts in disciplines outside of their field of expertise: Chemists, Geochemists, materials scientists, nanotechnologists, water engineers, academics, industrialists – ensuring cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer.