Wout Van Weert is a 24 year-old Belgian graduate student who studies in Environmental Engineering Technology at Ghent University. He always had had a weak spot for the environment, combined with youthful idealism and the wish to preserve this planet made him start a bachelor’s in Environmental Management. After finishing in 2016, he wanted to get deeper into the technological side of the story, which is why he started a linking program and eventually a Master’s in industrial engineering.
How did you happen to join ISPT?
Becoming part of ISPT was a welcome coincidence, rather than an entirely intended event. In fact, when choosing a topic for my Master’s dissertation I focused mainly on the contents of the project and work package. When I came across this topic, I did not hesitate long applying for it. The opportunity to work with such an innovative technology, and that within a great multinational company like Dow was what I was looking for. On top of that, the objective of the study, being the research towards reuse options for the contaminated condensate stream, was very interesting to me. I believe closing resource loops is an essential part of modern industrial process management, and getting more and more relevant. This is when I learned of ISPT. Having these ‘ideals’ embedded in a platform where academia and industries cooperate is critical to achieve the much needed change, and I am very grateful to have been a part of that.
What was the background of your research?
Dow Terneuzen is looking into different technologies to treat contaminated condensate coming from the Light Hydrocarbon (LHC) production plants. The ultimate goal would be to achieve a quality that permits reuse of the condensate in the same process (as boiler feed water). This could mean a combination of different technologies would be necessary. My research, together with my supervisor ir. Irina Veleva, consisted of analysing the capability of Membrane Aerated Biofilm Reactor (MABR) technology to achieve this. The experiments were performed using a pilot-scale MABR (by Oxymem). In an MABR, a biofilm is developed onto numerous gas-permeable hollow-fibre membranes. The micro-organisms are supplied with oxygen by diffusion through the membrane’s, reducing oxygen (and thus energy) losses.
What are your most important results/conclusions of your research?
The period for my Master’s thesis ended after 5 months in the operational period. However, the project is still running with improved conditions. This means different (and even better) results will surely emerge. For my part, the most important results are the following. Up to 98% removal of TOC was achieved with the pilot. Working with the actual stream, however, we were still confronted with residual TOC concentrations of 15 mg/l, which is much too high for reuse at high level. (The origin of this residual TOC was not identified within the time frame of my thesis). This high removal efficiency was also found for the specifically analysed compounds (up to 99% removal for acetate, 97% for propionate and 99% for phenol). The general conclusion for my part of the research were the following. High removal efficiencies were difficult to maintain consistently. Optimization of the process is required to reduce these variation and to stabilize the system. If this is possible, the MABR might be a suitable technology to remove most of the contamination. However, chances are that still a combination with different technologies (e.g. Ion exchange, membrane distillation,…) is required for polishing, to permit high level reuse of the stream.
What were your impressions with working with ISPT? How did this add to your MSc work?
Because this was my Master’s thesis, working under supervision of ir. Irina veleva, I was not actually in direct contact with the ISPT partners. I did get the opportunity to attend several meetings. The fact that these were held very frequently allowed us to get input for our project from these various experts on quite short notice, which was of great help.