The Reporter
Issue 489, 24 March 2003
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Treating waste with sound and bubbles


Sound waves and bubbles could provide a cheap and safe way to treat industrial waste, research in the school of chemical engineering has found.

Dr Maria Papadaki and PhD student Richard Emery are investigating whether ultrasound – high frequency sound waves more commonly known for their use in medical and industrial imaging – could be used to break down the chemicals in industrial waste which prevent it being naturally biodegradable.

“When ultrasound is used on a liquid, bubbles are formed, which grow and then collapse,” said Dr Papadaki. “Extreme temperatures of several thousand degrees and pressures of several hundred atmospheres are created within the bubbles during their collapse, turning them into tiny hot spot microreactors in an otherwise cold liquid. The reactions taking place within these bubbles break down the chemical compounds.”

Dr Papadaki is looking at the waste from the pharmaceutical industry, much of which is resistant to natural biodegradation, but the results could translate to other industries with wastewaters. The technique has proved successful with some of the common waste compounds, but further research is still required to see if the process could be applied on an industrial scale.

“The aim is to construct a safe, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of treating otherwise highly toxic wastes,” said Dr Papadaki. “We are analysing how different frequencies, powers and temperatures affect the process, and the final products.” The research is funded by the EPSRC and GlaxoSmithKline.


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