11 November 2010

Environmental research

Kick-off for international research cooperation at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences – "BioNexGen"project is aimed at developing and testing new membrane technology for water purification

On 8 November 2010 the cooperation partners held a kick-off meeting to launch the international research project "Developing the next generation of membrane bioreactors (BioNexGen)" at the Institute for Applied Research (Insitut für Angewandte Forschung) of Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences.

Eleven project partners from Europe and the MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) have joined forces to develop membranes with nano-scaled functional layers for water purification. The project team consists of the following institutions: the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum in Karlsruhe and Microdyn Nadir in Wiesbaden, Germany; the Italian Institute for Membrane Technology, the British Swansea University, the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology as well as the Greek company Nanothinx, the Turkish Izmir Institute of Technology, the Syrian Al Baath University Homs, the Egyptian Central Metallurgical Institute Cairo and the Tunisian Center of Biotechnology Sfax. The „BioNexGen“ project is headed by Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis, Head of the Institute for Applied Research (Institut für Angewandte Forschung) of Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences. It is funded by the European Union with 3.4 million Euros for a period of 42 months.

Membrane separation technology is increasingly deployed for waste water treatment, i.e. for purification and recycling. It is based on a separation procedure during which the medium to be filtered is guided under pressure along a filter with extremely fine pores (membrane). Contrary to conventional filters, the membrane technology allows a separation of substances down to their molecular size, similar to so-called reverse osmosis used for the desalination of seawater. Micro- and ultra-filter membranes, capable of retaining finest particles or germs, are already being deployed for waste water purification, so that the purified water can be reused in farming or industry.

Particularly for the Mediterranean rim countries and North African states, the reuse of purified water/waste water has become increasingly important, as they suffer from an acute lack of water, especially during the summertime. This problem will become even worse due to the climate change. The aim of the joint project "BioNexGen" is thus to develop novel, nano-structured membrane materials and test them on-site, i.e. in the MENA countries involved in the project. They shall significantly enhance purification efficiency compared to the membranes currently deployed in bioreactors. "This can only be achieved", so Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis, "if the new membranes do not only act as a physical barrier, but also have functional properties. In addition, we have to make sure that we prevent any fouling on the membrane surface, since this reduces the water flow rate and thus purification efficiency."

Moreover, the new materials are meant to improve the separation capability of the membranes in bioreactors, so that they also retain dissolved, low-molecular compounds, such as dissolved dyes in the waste water of the textile industry. This would mean a considerable increase in recycled water quality. "An additional challenge of this project", says Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis, "lies in finding a way to improve separation and purification efficiency, while keeping the energy consumption low."

"To expand our applied research activities is one the central strategic aims of the university", so its President, Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Meisel, "the example BioNexGen again shows to what extent a highly topical research task can be implemented in practice. This is exactly the concept the education systems of universities of applied sciences are so well known for."