Technological Centre

ESENCE: New technologies to detect emerging pollutants in water

Today we received in our facilities the consortium of the project led by Depuración de Aguas del Mediterráneo to evaluate the results obtained and to establish the next steps to follow.

So-called “emerging contaminants” (ECs) are certain chemical substances whose presence in water can pose a risk to the environment and human health. These substances include pharmaceuticals, hormones present in oral contraceptives, or drugs of abuse that reach nature after being expelled by our organism. They are called emerging substances because they are very difficult to detect, but are now beginning to be identified thanks to new technologies and are becoming a problem due to their potentially harmful consequences for biodiversity and society.

In order to tackle this problem, in 2020 CETIM promoted the ESENCE project, which investigates the use of new solutions to detect and remove these emerging pollutants from wastewater and drinking water. Today we received the project consortium at our facilities to evaluate the results obtained to date and to establish the next steps to be taken. We are accompanied by the Fundación IMDEA Energía (IMDEA) and Depuración de Aguas del Mediterráneo S.L. (DAM). This the last one, is responsible for leading and coordinating the initiative.

ESENCE seeks to develop disruptive technologies to achieve in situ detection of emerging pollutants in wastewater. This is an ambitious scientific objective that would have a high impact on the water sector by allowing more detailed knowledge of the presence of these substances, and in-depth research into their consequences and how to eliminate them.

In detail

One of the technologies that CETIM is investigating for ESENCE is the use of molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) for the selective adsorption of target substances with a double objective: to evaluate the potential of MIPs for the elimination of emerging pollutants and to associate them with sensors for detection tasks.

A second line of CETIM research at ESENCE is based on photonic sensors, which allow the study of CEs present in water by means of surface plasmon resonance effects, i.e. through a photonic sensor that stands out for its economy, simplicity and high sensitivity. Along the same lines, photonic crystals are also being used to analyse the reflection of light and thus detect the ECs present in water.

For its part, IMDEA is studying the use of porous coordination polymers, also known as MOFs (Metal-Organic Frameworks), to adsorb and/or degrade CEs present in wastewater.
Finally, the research carried out at pilot scale will be transferred to real environments to guarantee and improve the safety of water reuse, in a stage of the research that will be coordinated by DAM.

Partner to partner

ESENCE has a multidisciplinary consortium made up of entities that are national and international references in their fields of action and with a recognised capacity for collaboration and participation in research and innovation projects.

DEPURACIÓN DE AGUAS DEL MEDITERRÁNEO S.L. (DAM) is a company with more than 20 years of experience in the operation of water treatment plants and which has provided operation, maintenance and conservation services for wastewater treatment plants throughout its history. The ESENCE pilot operation tests are being carried out at its facilities.

Fundación IMDEA Energía (IMDEA) is strongly committed to the effective transfer of I+D results to the productive sector and aims to join forces. As we mentioned, in the project it will be responsible for the synthesis and scaling up of porous coordination polymers (MOFs) for the capture and elimination of Ces.

At CETIM we have a long track record in I+D+i projects in different sectors. In ESENCE we will carry out the synthesis and scale-up of MIPs for the uptake and detection of emerging contaminants from the herbicide, drug and drug of abuse families. We will also develop prototypes based on photonic systems using reflectance systems combined with photonic crystals (highly ordered structures at nanometric scale) and plasmon resonance for the detection of emerging contaminants, based on the properties that a gold foil has in interacting with light in the presence of specific molecules.

The impact of ESENCE

Currently, there is no online sensor on the market that enables the detection of emerging pollutants using this type of technology. Therefore, ESENCE has the potential to be a before and after in wastewater treatment.

ESENCE is part of the I+D+i funding program of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, “Challenges for Collaboration 2019” and is framed in the “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning minimum requirements for water reuse”, promoted by the European Commission and which aims to set the guidelines and minimum requirements for water reuse and its different uses.