Micropollutants in water zapped by pulsed light

A team in Saudi Arabia uses high-intensity pulses of light to remove carbon-based organic micropollutants in water.

pulsed light
Hazardous and environmentally harmful organic micro-pollutants can be successfully removed from wastewater using high-intensity light pulses. (© 2021 KAUST; Hassan Tahini)

According to the team at KAUST, this photodegradation process is known to be feasible, but limited by the long treatment times it requires. Luca Fortunato, Thomas Anthopoulos and colleagues have shown that this photodegradation treatment can be accelerated with high-intensity pulses of light generated by a xenon flash lamp.

“An interesting aspect of this work is that we have combined the expertise and technologies from two different areas,” Fortunato says. He added that the collaboration between two different research divisions — KAUST’s Solar Center and Water Desalination and Reuse Center — allowed the team to utilize a pulsed light system previously used to process semiconductor materials for transistors and solar cells.


Organic micropollutants (OMPs), known as emerging contaminants, include a long list of drugs, hormones, compounds in personal care products, and industrial chemical additives. They are released in multiple locations, are very persistent in water and can have toxic effects on human health even at very low concentrations.

“They are continuously discharged into waterways from wastewater treatment plants, with conventional treatment methods showing only limited effects in removing these contaminants,” Fortunato said in a statement.

The researchers found that the effectiveness of high-intensity pulsed light (HIPL) varied significantly depending on parameters, including the number of pulses and the total energy dose delivered by the light. This allowed them to identify the most effective conditions for handling a test solution containing 11 significant OMPs, including drugs, hormones and industrial chemical contaminants.

They found that the HIPL treatment causes the degradation of the OMPs at extraordinary degradation rates.

“Our innovative approach efficiently removes OMPs from water within milliseconds, making it ideal for high throughput water treatment applications,” said Anthopoulos.

The treatment has the potential to become a highly effective, simple and scalable solution to an increasing environmental problem.

The team is working to further improve system efficiency and increase throughput. Their next step is to scale up the treatment setup.

“We hope to build a pilot-scale reactor soon to assess the efficiency of wastewater treatment,” Fortunato said.

The team’s findings are detailed in the Journal of Water Process Engineering

Abhishek Maheswari
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