Loughborough University
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Development of a microwave-assisted catalytic reactor for wastewater treatment: simulation and experiments

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posted on 2023-06-30, 08:07 authored by Aashu Anshuman

The global population is constantly rising and with the consequent increase in demand for clean water, the planet is facing a looming freshwater shortage. At the current rate, cities around the globe could lose as much as two thirds of their freshwater supply by 2050. To tackle this, there has been a huge surge on the investigation of novel wastewater treatment technologies. Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) have shown great promise in this regard. Recently using microwaves with AOPs has been proven to exhibit improved reaction rates and thus there is a push towards developing processes involving microwaves and AOPs to achieve high water treatment efficiencies. However no methodical studies have been conducted to the best of our knowledge, to take the lab scale improvements successfully on to the pilot scale wastewater treatment system. To design such a system by coupling microwaves with Fenton process is the objective of this microwave assisted catalytic treatment of wastewater (MICROCAT) research project. Multiphysics simulation was used for cavity design optimisation and common pesticides found in agricultural wastewater were used as candidate impurities.

A heterogeneous Fenton catalyst was prepared by a multi-stage thermal and chemical treatment of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) mesh on polypropylene support structure in collaboration with De Montfort University (DMU). The PAN meshes, after each stage of the treatment process, have been characterised using the field emission gun scanning electron microscope (FEGSEM) and electron dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) for microstructure and composition. The catalyst was used to study the decomposition of a model compound (e.g., carbetamide) using microwave radiation as well as conventional heating. Two kinds of trials were carried out — constant power and constant temperature — to observe the effect of variation of process parameters on the reaction rates. It was seen that the use of microwave heating enhanced the rate of decomposition compared to conventional heating in both scenarios.

Attempts were also made to modify the composition of the catalyst and the support structure using polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) and carbon based additives (graphite and carbon black) to improve the microwave absorption characteristics. The combination of additive and PAN/PVDF mixtures has the potential to help in designing a suitable fabric support for catalyst that could be more receptive to microwaves, thereby helping to improve the energy efficiency of the process. Thorough investigation of dielectric properties and microwave absorption characteristics of the catalyst and support materials were performed independently. The heating rates of the meshes were monitored using an infrared thermal imaging camera. The absorption efficiencies of materials commonly used to build water treatment reactors such as polypropylene (PP), Fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), glass, PTFE, and fused quartz were assessed by subjecting them to constant microwave power experiments to ascertain their utility for making the reactor parts.

To take the successful lab scale results (100 ml) to scalable levels (80000 ml) for field trails, a new microwave reactor system was designed and tested. The cavity design was aided by multiphysics simulation of the electromagnetic field and temperature distribution inside the cavity. The model was created using COMSOL and provided valuable insight in making several design choices and improvements. The material data used in the model was determined both from our characterisation results and from corroborative literature data. The cavity itself was fully constructed using aluminium and the internal components were made using polypropylene and PTFE within the project timeline. The cavity was commissioned and initial testing at end user sites involved experiments measuring the rate of decomposition of carbetamide and other pesticides – the results again emphasising that microwave treatment improves the reaction rates both from lab scale and in pilot scale water treatment situations in comparison to conventional treatment systems. This augers well for the generic applicability of the microwave assisted catalytic reactor system and its potential for the efficient treatment of contaminated water from hard to treat agricultural. Industrial, medical and defence waste/pollutants in future. An added advantage is that the developed microwave treatment system is mobile (on an ISO-container) and hence can reach the remote, contaminated site and treat it then and there rather than transporting the contaminated fluid to the treatment plant in a faraway location.


Great Britain, Innovate UK.



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Loughborough University

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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Bala Vaidhyanathan

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  • Doctoral

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