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Environmental assessment of solar photo-Fenton processes in combination with nanofiltration for the removal of micro-contaminants from real wastewaters

Gallego-Schmid, Alejandro, Tarpani, Raphael Ricardo Zepon, Miralles-Cuevas, Sara, Cabrera-Reina, Alejandro, Malato, Sixto, Azapagic, Adisa
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.650 pp. 2210-2220
acidification, carbon dioxide, climate change, ecotoxicology, effluents, environmental assessment, eutrophication, fossil fuels, issues and policy, life cycle assessment, metals, nanofiltration, ozone, pH, particulates, wastewater, wastewater treatment
Scarcity of water and concerns about the ecotoxicity of micro-contaminants are driving an interest in the use of advanced tertiary processes in wastewater treatment plants. However, the life cycle environmental implications of these treatments remain uncertain. To address this knowledge gap, this study evaluates through life cycle assessment the following four advanced process options for removal of micro-contaminants from real effluents: i) solar photo-Fenton (SPF) operating at acidic pH; ii) acidic SPF coupled with nanofiltration (NF); iii) SPF operating at neutral pH; and iv) neutral SPF coupled with NF. The results show that acidic SPF coupled with NF is the best option for all 15 impacts considered. For example, its climate change potential is almost three times lower than that of the neutral SPF process (311 vs 928 kg CO2 eq./1000 m3 of treated effluent). The latter is the worst option for 12 impact categories. For the remaining three impacts (acidification, depletion of metals and particulate matter formation), acidic SPF without NF is least sustainable; it is also the second worst option for seven other impacts. Neutral SPF with NF is the second worst technology for climate change, ozone and fossil fuel depletion as well as marine eutrophication. In summary, both types of SPF perform better environmentally with than without NF and the acidic SPF treatment is more sustainable than the neutral version. Thus, the results of this work suggest that ongoing efforts on developing neutral SPF should instead be focused on further improvements of its acidic equivalent coupled with NF. These results can also be used to inform future development of policy related to the removal of micro-contaminants from wastewater.