Technological Centre

The ESENCE project’s challenge: in-situ detection of emerging and priority pollutants in WWTPs

During the next 3 years CETIM will collaborate with the company Depuración de Aguas del Mediterráneo (DAM) and the IMDEA Energy Foundation in the ESENCE project, funded by the call RETOS Colaboración 2019.


The project, held its kick-off meeting on 15 September, aims to research new technologies for in-situ detection of priority and emerging pollutants and the development of new removal processes. The term Contaminants of Emerging Concern (ECCs) covers a wide variety of products of diverse origin and chemical nature such as: pesticides, pharmaceutical products, illicit drugs, “lifestyle” compounds (caffeine, nicotine, etc.), personal care products, surfactants, industrial additives and by-products, flame retardants or food additives, among others. The concentrations of these ECCs found in surface and ground waters are in the range of ng/L or μg/L, while in soils and sediments, where they can persist for long periods of time (in the order of years), they reach concentrations as high as g/kg. These low concentrations found in water, combined with their diversity, make these pollutants difficult to identify and measure, and also difficult to eliminate in Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs). Despite the fact that the concentration of these pollutants in the effluents of the WWTPs is low, their accumulation can cause a great impact on health and on the environment, and can also generate some endocrine and hormonal problems, among others; therefore it is necessary to increase efforts to develop new processes and technologies that allow their identification and elimination.


Esquema del proyecto Esence.


Within the different activities of the ESENCE project CETIM will be in charge of investigating photonic detection and elimination technologies based on MIPs (Molecularly Imprinted Polymers) and photonic crystals. CETIM expects, during the next 3 years of research, to overcome the technological challenge of measuring relevant emerging contaminants with concentrations below 1 μg/L. The project will cover all developments from their initial level at laboratory scale, to their implementation in a pilot plant to evaluate the technologies’ performance in a real environment.  Once this pilot plant has been validated, studies will be carried out to evaluate the technical and environmental viability and the scalability of the system in order to put the developments into the market.


Thanks to the project’s expected developments, post-treatment water treatments will be launched on the market, a technology that could be added to existing WWTPs and WWTPis (WWTPs for industrial water), increasing the quality of their discharge, and achieving regenerated water quality, depending on the previous treatment level and the origin of the waste water.