All steam ahead for international research cooperation at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences: The “BioNexGen” project brings together eleven partners from Europe and the MENA countries (Middle East and North Africa) with the objective of developing membranes with new nanostructured functional layers for the treatment of wastewater. The consortium is led by Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis, Director of the Institute of Applied Research at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, and funded by the European Union with a total of 3.4 million euros for a period of 42 months.
The research project "Developing the next generation of membrane bioreactors (BioNextGen)" at the Institute of Applied Research (IAF) at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences was officially launched on 8th November 2010 when the cooperation partners came together in Karlsruhe. The project involves partners from Germany, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia: the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences, the Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum Karlsruhe and the Wiesbaden-based company Microdyn Nadir as well as the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology and the company Nanothinx, the Turkish Izmir Institute of Technology, the Syrian Al Baath University Homs, the Egyptian Central Metallurgical Institute Cairo and the Tunisian Centre of Biotechnology Sfax.
Membrane bioreactor technology is increasingly being used for wastewater reclamation, i.e. the purification and recycling of water. The technology is based on a separation process that involves the application of lateral pressure to the solution to be filtered through one side of a filter with very fine pores (membrane). In contrast to traditional filters, the membrane bioreactor technology enables the separation of substances according to their molecular weight, in the same way as the process used in the desalination of seawater known as reverse osmosis, where large molecules are prevented from passing through the pores, while pure solvent is allowed to pass freely. Micro- and ultrafiltration membranes are already used for the purification of wastewater. These membranes are able to block the smallest particles and pathogens, thereby enabling the treated water to be used in agriculture and industry.
Wastewater reclamation and reuse schemes are gaining increasing importance in countries around the Mediterranean and in North Africa (MENA countries) due to acute water deficiency during the summer months. And the changing climate is making the situation worse. The objective of the cooperative "BioNexGen" project is to develop novel nanostructured membrane materials and pilot test them directly in the affected countries, i.e. the MENA countries. The cooperation partners hope that the new materials will improve the performance of membranes previously used in bioreactors. Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis: "This can only be achieved if the new membranes are not just limited to playing the role of purely physical barrier, they must also have functional properties. We have to be particularly careful to prevent fouling, which is regarded as the main limitation of water flux as it reduces the filtering performance of the membranes."
It is also envisaged that the new materials will improve the separation performance of the bioreactor membranes in that they retain dissolved low-molecular compounds such as dyes that are found in textile industry wastewater. Recycling would then contribute to improving water quality considerably. "Another challenge for us is to increase the filtering capacity and hence the wastewater purification performance of the membranes at the same time as keeping the energy consumption as low as possible," said Prof. Dr. Jan Hoinkis.
"The expansion of applied research is one of the key strategic goals of our university," said Rector Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Meisel, going on to add "BioNexGen clearly shows how cutting-edge scientific issues can be used in practical applications - a concept that is generally adhered to by universities of applied sciences and in the courses they run."