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Fate of engineered nanomaterials in waste water treatment plants. Self funded PhD in Mining and Minerals Engineering

Project Description

Project details:

The nanotechnology industry is now valued at over one trillion US dollars and the global annual production of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) now exceeds several hundred thousand tonnes [1], [2]. It is clear that ENMs pose immense benefits for society, however, it is now well-established that many different types of ENM also pose serious adverse effects on the environment and human health [3]. In addition many larger materials are also known to undergo environmental degradation into nanomaterial form (e.g. the degradation of bulk scale plastic into nanoplastic [4]).
Given the fact that waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) are likely one of the foremost recipients of ENMs an accurate understanding of their occurrence, behaviour and fate in such systems is urgently required. More specifically we currently have no idea where the ENMs are currently being discharged and therefore their likely environmental impact.
This project will provide this urgently required data by undertaking a major sample collection campaign at WWTPs around the UK. Mass balance will then be applied to determine the extent at which different ENMs can either penetrate through the entire water treatment process (i.e. end up being discharged within the “treated water” and therefore into either riverine or coastal marine environments) or become concentrated within biosolids (and then subsequently spread onto agricultural land).
This information is critically required in order to then understand the likely mechanisms for associated environmental and human health impact and thereby shape both future UK legislation and industry best practice for ENM removal.

Project Aims and Methods:

The overarching aim of this project is to provide critically required baseline data on the occurrence, behaviour and fate of ENMs in UK WWTPs.

The project will aim to:
i. Quantify the current flux of different ENMs at each stage of the WWTP process;
ii. Identify the mechanisms which govern ENM behaviour and fate with each stage of the WWTP process; and
iii. Assimilate data from aims (i) and (ii) in order to provide preliminary data for the creation of a “nanopollution risk” map for the UK.
A major component of this project will be the collection of samples (water and biosolids) from WWTPs at various locations across the UK in addition to soil samples located adjacent to WWTP effluent discharge zones (in order to determine potential ENM “hot spots”). Various advanced laboratory based analytical techniques will then be applied in order to detect and characterise any ENMs present in such media.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, contact Dr Richard Crane:

Funding Notes

This project is self funded.


[1] Keller AA, Lazareva A. Predicted releases of engineered nanomaterials: from global to regional to local. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 2013 Oct 15;1(1):65-70.
[2] Lourtioz JM, Lahmani M, Dupas-Haeberlin C, Hesto P. Nanosciences and Nanotechnology. Evolution or Revolution. 2016.
[3] Soni D, Naoghare PK, Saravanadevi S, Pandey RA. Release, transport and toxicity of engineered nanoparticles. InReviews of environmental contamination and toxicology 2015 (pp. 1-47). Springer, Cham.
[4] da Costa JP, Santos PS, Duarte AC, Rocha-Santos T. (Nano) plastics in the environment–sources, fates and effects. Science of The Total Environment. 2016 Oct 1;566:15-26.

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