Each year, 8,000 tonnes of pharmaceutical products and 10 tonnes of microplastics alone end up in Germany’s largest river, the Rhine. Conventional wastewater treatment plants will always struggle to deal with such large quantities of micropollutants. That is why the town of Barntrup in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia added a purification stage for micropollutants to its wastewater treatment plant – a world first using Fuzzy Filters® from Bosman and automated with pneumatics from Festo.
These micropollutants or trace substances have been shown to have significant consequences for the environment. For example, certain beta blockers, anti-epileptic drugs and contraceptives cause damage and changes to the organs, sexual characteristics and behaviour of fish if they get into the water. Scientists are currently studying how they damage the human organism.
For the most part, microplastics measuring five micrometres to five millimetres and trace substances can only be removed in a fourth purification stage. This is achieved by adding activated carbon powder to the water in a contact tank. The activated carbon with its porous and crumbly structure has a large internal surface area. In physical terms, one teaspoon of activated carbon powder has the same surface area as a football pitch. This surface area provides lots of room for the trace substances to accumulate. The activated carbon-enriched water is kept in the contact tank for 15 to 20 minutes to allow this to happen. In conventional plants a further tank, called a sedimentation tank, is required to remove the activated carbon from the water after this purification process. The activated carbon falls to the bottom of the tank and, together with the attached trace substances, is later separated with the sewage sludge and burned. Apart from the contact tank for activated carbon treatment, a bigger investment in a large sedimentation tank that takes up a disproportionately large amount of space is also required. Measurements have revealed that this method removes 80 per cent of the pharmaceutical residues and X-ray contrast agents from the wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants without this fourth purification stage only hold back around 30 per cent of the trace substances collected.
Video: Wastewater free of microplastics and medication
Instead of investing heavily in a sedimentation tank, the city of Barntrup opted for a more efficient Fuzzy Filter®. All it needs is a small utility building, visible at the far end of the plant close to the road.
Removing 80 per cent of the micropollutants was still not enough for the town of Barntrup, especially since the purified water can get into a drinking water catchment area via a river network. “That’s why Barntrup opted for the world’s first purification system with Fuzzy Filters® from Bosman Watermanagement,” explains Frank Waermer, Managing Director and consulting engineer of the Detmold-based engineering office Danjes. “With this filter system we can eliminate as much as 95 per cent of all trace substances and also remove microplastics and phosphorus from the wastewater.” Danjes planned the entire system and coordinated its implementation.
“The core of the filter system is the Fuzzy Filter® balls,” says Dr Kathrin Gantner, Office Manager at Bosman Watermanagement GmbH in Berlin. Bosman is the manufacturer that makes the filters and flocculators. The Fuzzy Filter® balls are made from synthetic fibres and shaped into a sphere with a diameter of around 33 millimetres using a clip. The high porosity and low density of the medium ensure that a Fuzzy Filter® system can absorb at least two to three times the amount of filtratable solids as sand or cloth filters – a true wonder fibre in the fight against micropollutants.
Unlike conventional filter systems, the liquid to be filtered flows both around and through the filter material and not along the medium, as with sand filters. The suspension to be filtered flows into the distribution chamber under the filter bed. In the distribution chamber, the inflowing water is evenly distributed over the filter surface before it flows through the lower fixed perforated plate and into the filter bed. The micropollutants adsorbed by the activated carbon as well as the phosphorus and microplastics that fell to the bottom of the tank are collected in the filter bed and the filtered water flows back out the top of the Fuzzy Filter®.
As soon as a specified turbidity value or predefined maximum pressure is reached in the filter bed, a backwash cycle is started. Backwashing involves pumping raw water into the filter while an external fan blows in purge air to set the filter medium in motion. The filter balls, which move freely between the perforated plates, are set into motion by the air flow as if in a dance; contamination particles adhering to and stored in the filter are thus loosened and flushed out.
The activated carbon is pumped back into the aeration tank with the backwash water and a further purification process is started, since the activated carbon may still be holding micropollutants after the first flushing cycle. After one purification cycle, the amount of trace substances is reduced to a fraction. “This process can be repeated several times, which means that the Fuzzy Filter® method from Bosman can render many more micropollutants harmless than the single-step activated carbon method. With this method, the activated carbon is combined with the sewage sludge in the sedimentation tank after just one purification cycle and removed,” explains Gantner.