Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Activity Report Summary - BIOSPEC (Remote monitoring and control of biological processes for environmental protection and sustainable development)

This project addresses two main areas with large socio-economic impacts; the protection of water resources and the generation of renewable low carbon energy. The provision of clean and wholesome water is a basic human need. Part of achieving this ambition is to provide quicker and more accurate ways of testing water samples for chemical pollution.

This project has developed techniques which can measure simultaneously a wider range of chemical pollutants than described previously and in a shorter analysis time. These techniques were used to identify the presence of the chemicals in the rivers of South Wales ranging from those chemicals in personal care products (e.g. shampoos and perfumes) and compounds found in both legal and illicit drugs. The presence of these chemical compounds in the rivers was identified as coming mainly from the treated sewage released from sewage treatment works.

Although it was found that most of the pollution was coming from the sewage works, the processes used to treat the raw sewage was actually removing over 75 % or even higher with some particular compounds. However, there were differences in the effectiveness of individual processes in treating these pollutants. This information can then be used to inform operators on the operational performance of particular water treatment processes and identify improvements in these processes with potentially significant environmental, economic and commercial benefits. The work has also highlighted the need for greater research into optimising these water treatment processes if water resources are to be returned to the condition they would naturally have without the presence of humankind's activities.

As well as improving the environment, a use for these techniques in detecting and monitoring the use of illegal drugs was also developed, which would be of use to police forces and other parts of the criminal justice system. If waste and wastewater treatment processes could be harnessed to produce energy then multiple benefits in both socio-economic terms for waste treatment and the supply of renewable low carbon energy would accrue. Anaerobic bacteria can be exploited to produce biogases such as hydrogen and methane or electricity directly from organic waste including wastes and waste water as well as biomass crops. These processes are much more efficient that either bioethanol or biodiesel production. The anaerobic bacteria used in these processes are found in complex communities as opposed to pure cultures used in other biotechnology processes.

To fully understand and improve these processes, these bacteria have to be identified and quantified. DNA and RNA techniques have been developed in this project and used to monitor these bacteria when they have been exposed to changes in feedstock composition likely to be found in industrial scenarios. It also important to develop a fundamental understanding of the energy metabolism of these microbial communities, so that process improvements can be developed in terms of directing their metabolic activity towards those pathways producing valuable products like biofuels. Using data from laboratory based operational processes energy metabolism models of these microbial communities have been developed aiming at a better understanding of their activity under different environmental conditions. These results could then be used to develop improved control strategies for industrial processes. The implementation of these control strategies has started with the development of two pilot plants operating on food industry co-products and grass biomass crops which are based 40 km and 100 km from the main university. Using remote monitoring systems developed with the project these pilot plants can then be monitored and managed remotely. The data collected will be used to develop techniques so that these bacterial processes can be utilised to treat waste or produce more renewable energy both more energetically and cost effectively.

Reported by

Llantwit road, Treforest
United Kingdom
See on map
Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top