Sustainable membrane technology-based solutions for solvent-rich wastewater treatment

Article published on 30 September 2019 Anita Buekenhoudt

In November 2017, as part of the Catalisti programme titled “valorisation of sidestreams”, the research project known as SuMEMS that was initiated by the pharmaceutical companies Janssen and Omnichem and the OEM company InOpsys, got under way. VITO (the Separation and Conversion Technology Unit) and KU Leuven (Faculty of Bio-engineering Sciences, Prof. Vankelecom) are the research partners that complement the consortium.

The aim of the project is to develop innovative solutions for the sustainable and cost-effective treatment of challenging wastewater streams containing solvents of the type typically encountered in the fine chemicals and pharmaceutical industries. Presently, biodegrading these waste streams using conventional water treatment facilities is out of the question, as these types of wastewater contain the following components:

(1) Active pharmaceutical ingredients or other ecotoxic substances

(2) excessively high volumes of solvents and/or salts

(3) traces of metals such as zinc or palladium residues from homogeneous catalysts

The external incineration of these waste waters, which is currently unavoidable, not only represents a high financial cost, but is also harmful to the environment.

This project sets out to achieve a breakthrough by developing innovative, efficient and cost-effective membrane-based technologies that should enable purified water to be treated in the existing on-site water treatment facilities and, where possible, should enable valuable components such as precious metals to be recovered. The project partners have predicted that the most ideal processes are likely to be hybrid processes that combine suitable and robust membranes with synergetic pre-treatments or post-treatments.

The project encompasses an extensive selection of membranes, ranging from commercial membranes to membranes under development at KU Leuven and/or VITO, a systematic performance study and a demonstration of the most effective processes in the form of pilot projects.

Read our selection of research papers on membrane technology
Anita Buekenhoudt Anita Buekenhoudt
About the author

Research & Development expert with extensive expertise in membrane filtration in a wide range of industrial applications. Specific focus on the potential and applicability of porous and dense ceramic membranes. Co-inventor of different membrane-based chemical processes for process intensification, and innovative functionalisation of ceramic membranes for affinity-based separations.