Dr Brenda Parker (lecturer in the UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering) has won a £88,192 grant from EPSRC Global Challenges Research Fund small grants scheme to work on Bioreactor Design for Phycoremediation of Heavy Metals. This will enable collaboration with the Blacksmith Institute and their partners in India, the Institute of Making and Open Science School, Paris.
Heavy metal pollution caused by lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury poses a significant public health problem in developing countries. Options to remove heavy metals such as thermal treatment, electroreclamation, or soil washing are often expensive. Other solutions, such as excavation, landfilling or chemical stabilisation may only displace or temporarily resolve the problem. Bioremediation has often been cited as a more sustainable alternative, yet the methods for doing so have not become widely adopted. Using a model system, this project seeks to understand how photobioreactor technologies suitable for in-situ remediation might be developed.
Bioremediation technologies often fail to make the translation to deployment due to a lack of understanding of the unique socio-economic conditions in the field. Brenda and her colleagues have chosen to work with algae rather than plants because of the ease of scaling the technology, and the level of control that can be exerted over a bioreactor based system. This pump-priming project aims to identify the key parameters important for phycoremediation of heavy metals and apply these to photobioreactor design and operation. To address some of the barriers for deployment the of bioremediation, they propose to use a human-centred design approach: emphasising action, collaboration, and prototyping in order to meet the priorities of future end users of the technology.