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Pollution solution? EPFL creates ultra-fine carbon to mop up micropollutants

EPFL's new carbon works much faster than traditional compounds


Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed an ultra-fine carbon that rapidly filters out micropollutants. It could be used to improve treatment at wastewater plants. 

Chemists working at the EPFL have created an extremely fine powdered form of activated carbon, which has the potential to treat micropollutants more efficiently. New tests showed it speeds up micropollutant removal rates by a factor of five on average; in one case it was 65 times faster than normal. 

Powdered activated carbon is used at wastewater treatment plants to eliminate micropollutants – traces of chemical compounds from pharmaceutical or agricultural chemicals – which can pose a threat to aquatic ecosystems. But it can be expensive and requires lots of energy to produce. 

Using the new form of carbon, which works faster and more effectively, could help reduce costs, the EPFL said in a statement on Thursday. 

“As the next step, we will have to test the approach in a pilot study to be sure that it is workable in a full-scale wastewater treatment plant,” said Florence Bonvin, the lead author of the study. 

Micropollutants from pesticides, fertilisers, detergents, cosmetics and medication are a cause for concern in Swiss rivers and lakes. Even small quantities can harm aquatic flora and fauna and pollute drinking water. 

To halve the quantity of micropollutants, the government intends to upgrade 100 of the country’s 700 wastewater treatment systems over the next 80 years. It has calculated the cost at CHF1.2 billion – which works out as CHF60 million expenditure per year.

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