Careful use of scarce resources begins with wastewater Research project: How wastewater from pharmaceutical production can be purified in an energy-saving way
Clean water is one of the United Nations’ global sustainability goals. Above all, this means access to clean drinking water. In times of dwindling water resources, the purification of wastewater is becoming increasingly important. Water is also a precious commodity in the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines. To ensure that wastewater from pharmaceutical production can be purified in a more energy-efficient manner in the future, TU Braunschweig is starting a research project together with an industrial partner in September 2022.
Conventional methods for purifying pharmaceutical production wastewater usually represent complex processes that are particularly energy- and cost-intensive. The new approach, which is now to be advanced in a research and development project from laboratory scale to pre-series model, uses the principle of spray evaporation under vacuum conditions. With this novel process, pharmaceutical production wastewater is to be treated into ultrapure water.
Lower temperatures possible due to vacuum
The key feature in the field of pharmaceutical production: due to the vacuum conditions, purification can be carried out at comparatively low temperatures compared to previously known processes. This means that the energy requirement can be significantly reduced. In addition, the water to be evaporated is preheated by solar thermal energy or waste heat from a production process before purification, which saves energy and significantly increases the self-sufficiency of the facility.
From model to test facility
The Institute for Chemical and Thermal Process Engineering (ICTV) at TU Braunschweig is responsible for the experimental investigations and, based on this, is developing the modelling of the process and feeding the research results obtained into the conception and design of the facility. “Since the entire process is novel in the field of water treatment, there is currently no reliable modelling and no reliable, validated calculation basis for the design of such facilities. We will therefore set up a laboratory plant to investigate process settings, but also equipment variations, such as different spray nozzles, in order to support the design and optimisation of the process according to requirements,” says Dr.-Ing. Katharina Jasch, head of the working group for innovative equipment and plant concepts at the ICTV.
A wide range of possible applications
“The process should be able to treat waste water with varying degrees of contamination. In the simplest case, this could be, for example, rinsing wastewater from container and facility cleaning in pharmaceutical or food production facilities during Cleaning-In-Place cleaning,” says Knut Denecke from the company DEWA Engineering und Anlagenbau, which is involved in “VacuSpray” as an industrial partner. The wastewater mostly contains dissolved salts, oils and solid (product) residues. The more heavily contaminated wastewater is pharmaceutical wastewater, which is produced, for instance, during vaccine production. “They contain, for example, living microorganisms, components of viruses or bacteria, endotoxins as well as other pyrogens.”
If the project is successful, the partners can imagine extending the principle to other areas of application, for example in the chemical industry, in the pre-concentration of seawater for drinking water production or in the purification of waste water contaminated with microorganisms.
ProPharm: Rapid transfer from the laboratory to the marketplace
The project idea was conceived in the Pharmaceutical Production Technology Innovation Network – ProPharm – at the Centre for Pharmaceutical Process Engineering (PVZ) of TU Braunschweig and realised in the form of a joint funding application. “VacuSpray is an important signal for the successful cooperation between science and industry that the ProPharm network stands for. Through this cooperation, innovative research approaches can be transferred more quickly from the laboratory to the market,” explains Dr Gerlinde Benninger, Managing Director of the PVZ and Head of ProPharm Network Management.
The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) supports the project “Vakuum-Sprühverdampfer zur energieeffizienten Aufbereitung pharmazeutischer Produktionsabwässer und Gewinnung von Reinstwasser” (Vacuum spray evaporator for energy-efficient treatment of pharmaceutical production wastewater and production of ultrapure water), referred to as VacuSpray, as part of the funding line “Zentrales Innovationsprogramm Mittelstand (ZIM)” (Central Innovation Programme for SMEs). The total ZIM funding amounts to approximately 425,000 euros (September 2022 to February 2025). The partner is DEWA Engineering und Anlagenbau GmbH from Goslar.