A proposal by Dr Ewan McAdam to use membranes to harvest chemicals from wastewater for re-use in industry and agriculture has secured a major European Research Council (ERC) Frontier Research award, attracting five years of funding to develop a world-leading research team and facilities at the University. 

The water industry invests heavily in removing contaminants from wastewater. However, useful and valuable nutrients, salts and metals that have real value for manufacturing and agriculture are often not recovered. Recovery and reuse of raw material within the circular economy has been projected to reduce costs among Europe’s manufacturers by as much as 32% by 2030 and 53% by 2050. Ultimately, the approach also means safer, cleaner water and less energy use.

Professor Paul Jeffrey, Director of Water at Cranfield, said: “This award is fantastic news for Cranfield, and is testimony to our leading-edge research in water, which is helping to bring significant benefits to industry and, ultimately, to people’s lives and livelihoods. Combining water quality improvements with the promotion of circular economy solutions is central to our core beliefs as a University. Winning a significant EU grant at this time demonstrates that Cranfield remains an important source of scientific knowledge generation in this area.”

Reclaiming the re-usable chemicals is a complex scientific challenge; membrane technology is used to encourage crystallisation and crystal growth. Dr McAdam’s SCARCE (Sustainable Chemical Alternatives for Reuse in the Circular Economy) project sets out the case for finding ways to control the process of separation and, critically, how the process can be scaled up for widespread industry use outside of the lab.

The ERC programme attracts about 3,000 applications each year, of which around 1,200 are in Physical Sciences & Engineering. Only around 150 of the Physical Sciences & Engineering applications are funded. The €1.5 million award is given to promising researchers with proven potential of becoming independent research leaders, and will continue the growth of an established membrane research group within the Cranfield Water Science Institute. Dr McAdam, Reader in Process Engineering, will be recruiting and leading an experienced and interdisciplinary research team to study crystallisation processes on membrane surfaces and how the crystals can most effectively and efficiently be harvested.

The Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Large Scale Pilot
Cranfield's Pilot Plant

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Cranfield Water

Cranfield has over 40 years’ experience in the sector and we are recognised internationally for our work in the science, engineering and management of water. We work in all aspects of water – whether it is helping to ensure safe, clean supplies for domestic consumption, assessing agricultural needs for food production, protecting and enhancing natural habitats or improving process engineering for manufacturing and industry.

We have strategic partnerships with the Department for the Environment, Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent and Anglian Water.

Our activities are underpinned by world-class facilities, including a pilot-plant hall at the University’s own sewage treatment works, state-of-the-art soil and water laboratories, a grey water treatment pilot area, a managed borehole drilling site and soil and irrigation testing facilities.

We are a founding member of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP); it is estimated that, to date, it has helped provide over one million people with clean drinking water, and some 400,000 with improved sanitation.

In 2015, we were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for our education and research into safe water and sanitation for the world's poorest communities.