Wastewater treatment and enzymatic degradation

Applied enzymatic degradation for wastewater treatment

Water is essential for life and its quality affects wildlife, food sources and human health. The continued pollution of water sources from pharmaceutical residues and other harmful organic substances is directly associated with many of the most pressing environmental and sustainability issues raised by international organisations today. The issue of antibiotic resistance (AMR) in the environment, pollution of drinking water and fish die-off are just a few of the problems connected to these pollutants.

One challenge is that current wastewater treatment methods do not effectively degrade many pharmaceutical contaminants and may even generate more toxic by-products. Modern wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are built for collection, transportation, and purification of wastewater. Their principal aim is to reduce organic waste by targeting nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can cause eutrophication of rivers, lakes and the sea.

WWTPs are simply not designed for effective removal of pharmaceuticals and similar organic micro-pollutants, and unlike regulated chemical and microbial emissions from industry, routine monitoring programmes to test wastewater for pharmaceuticals have yet to be implemented in the EU. As such, these pharmaceuticals and other micropollutants which are left unchecked, remain in the purified water which is released back into the environment, ultimately to be consumed by animals and humans alike.

Various factors can amplify risks, and the true impact is sometimes minimised or not considered at all. However, the negative effects can be seen in small organisms and micro-organisms and, if studied, these effects can be followed through the food chain. Furthermore, singular substances are mostly found in the environment in modest quantities. However, a mixture of many substances may be sufficient to have an impact on health and the environment.

When micropollutants, pharmaceuticals, and their remnants, enter wastewater treatment, the purification steps are decided by the substances’ physical, chemical and biological properties. Promoting technological advancements to further increase the removal rate of hazardous organic substances – before they enter Nature – is a must.

Cost-effective solutions to address water pollution are vital

The need to find simple and cost-effective solutions to solve complex issues concerning wastewater treatment is evident. To solve these challenges, Pharem brings a unique technology and novel, sustainable solutions to this sector. These solutions are easy to use and provide financially viable applications of the highest efficiency, offering safe implementation. With the combination of Pharem’s disruptive technology and an active market, new possibilities are created for WWTPs that have previously been unable to adapt existing technologies for various reasons.

The Pharem Filtration System (PFS) is a solution designed to make a significant contribution to address the challenges presented in having safe and clean water, and the inherent environmental impact this has. The PFS harnesses a technology which removes pharmaceutical residues and other organic pollutants from wastewater, preventing human and environmental exposure to these contaminants in the water cycle. This results in cleaner water being released into the environment, and ultimately, cleaner water for human use and consumption.

Nature as a solution

Nature is amazing, and through its observation, innovative solutions are often demonstrated, paving the way for novel approaches to obstacles that societies face. When it comes to breaking down organic structures and pollutants, nothing compares with Nature’s own degradation experts – fungi and bacteria. An organism’s activity is what is responsible for the decomposition of elements seen in Nature, and they are capable of degrading some of the most stable and persistent organic structures out there. Their capacity to achieve this lies in the specialised enzymes that these organisms produce. They are already widely used in industries such as:

  • The food industry;
  • Pulp and paper industry;
  • Cleaning products and detergents; and
  • In the wastewater treatment industry.

Within the wastewater industry currently, enzymes are used as a secondary effect from the use of bacteria in the biological active step. All living things produce enzymes – for executing many of the reactions happening within an organism, or for breaking down substances as a food source. This mechanism is used in the wastewater industry to enable the organisms to break down and ‘eat’ pollutants through the natural production and use of enzymes. The enzymes that take care of these pollutants are only a fraction of the total enzymes and proteins produced by these organisms. This results in a slow and inefficient process, due to the wide range of flora needed to achieve the broad spectrum of degradation required.

Possibilities in enzyme technology

Pharem’s specialisation is in the field of high-end biotechnology and combining this with adaptable mechanical functionality to create industrial applications, based on enzyme technology. Enzymes themselves are not living things and are widely used in many industrial activities. It is possible to harness the enzyme’s catalytic effect in environments which normally would not be conducive to living organisms, such as bacteria.

The expertise lies in developing enzymes that can degrade the most difficult pollutants and establish them for industrial applications. With this technological approach, enzymes can be applied in a targeted way to the problem areas with increased efficiency to degrade pollutants. This offers a safe, natural and predictable breakdown of contaminants when compared to other chemical catalytic processes. The enzymes can catalyse reactions without the addition of reagents or supplemental energy, permitting harmless, high-efficiency catalysis at an industrial scale.

By applying several enzymes at once, with their individual capacity to degrade several different pollutants, Pharem is creating new applications which function effectively in inhospitable conditions, while maintaining safety and ease of use. The company vision is to:

  • Continue to enhance the enzyme technology to further increase activity and efficiency; and
  • Continuously develop and expand the enzyme repository, placing the company at the forefront of modern technological applications within wastewater treatment.

Pharem Filtration System: a wastewater treatment system for organic micro-pollutants
Using a combination of adaptable mechanical functionality and high-end biotechnology, the system consists of a modular concept which uses enzyme filtration technology to break down and remove organic micro-pollutants in aquatic environments. PFS filters combine protein immobilisation and specialised enzyme activity, designed and integrated into a system application, to provide a complete solution ready to be installed in WWTPs. Pharem offers a full service solution, making the system the most cost-efficient and user-friendly product on the market for removing pollutants, such as:

  • Pharmaceuticals;
  • Pesticides;
  • Endocrine disruptors; and
  • Many other organic compounds.

Natural filtration in wastewater treatment

The enzymes used in PFS are specifically designed to work in the harsh environment of the WWTP. They are developed to target specific pollutants and a cocktail of different enzymes are used to cover all organic pollutants. There is a continuous development of new enzymes and they go through a finely tuned development process to attain a certain level of activity in the wastewater treatment environment.

The enzymes act as the active agent in the system and are designed to remove a wide range of pollutants in a demanding environment. So far, over 200 pollutants have been confirmed to be degraded by this technology, far surpassing the amount considered for regulatory measures.

The enzymatic activity follows an exact degradation process, offering controlled toxicology of degradation products and a performance that can easily be predicted. The enzymatic activity offers removal rates up to 95% of these pollutants.

Natural efficiency

The enzymatic process occurs quickly and can reduce the retention time needed for removing pollutants to mere seconds in a properly designed wastewater treatment process. The enzymatic process is also independent from external energy and offers a completely energy-independent solution for removing pollutants, thus providing additional environmental benefits with the reduction of resources.

The enzymes are immobilised on a filtration matrix, with a prolonged life and added control over diffusion into the water, delivering an optimised effect. The filter mass is applied in columns and offers a robust and simple application of enzymes into the wastewater treatment process. The enzymes are worn out with time and the total operative cost of the system consists merely of the filter replacement.

The technological aspect of PFS is contained in the enzymes, therefore, with the continued replacement of filters, every customer will be continually upgraded to the latest developments, facilitating the continued improvement of enzymes. As a result, Pharem makes use of any technological advances in the degradation and filtration abilities of this already efficient system, without requiring drastic changes and upgrades to the system already in place.

The combined effect of all the properties of the enzymatic PFS results in the lowest operating costs on the wastewater treatment market, usually offering a total operating cost at 75% less than other technologies.

Modules as a scalable solution

The filtration system is designed to be adaptable to any technical specifications and fit into any facility. By using a modular concept for the system, it can be scaled to any capacity outflow to ensure full coverage. By guiding the effluent flow through parallel modular systems, the PFS can be adjusted to accommodate the individual needs of different WWTPs. The modules are constructed to be easily installed and operated; in addition, the filtration system only needs simple maintenance. All maintenance activity – included in the operating costs – is scheduled to be conducted during the filter exchange and allows continuous quality control for the customer.

The system is designed to run on the inherent flow of current systems and is scaled to fit the flow of the effluent. With its smart design, it operates as an energy-independent system that can easily be scaled, in line with the potential expansion of wastewater treatment facilities in the future. The system requires no more retention time than it takes for the water to flow through the columns, and therefore requires no additional flowrate control.

The low retention time, in combination with the compact design, means that the PFS requires minimal space for installation and opens up the possibilities of finding a solution for WWTPs with limited space for new installations. At comparative water flows, the typical installation size is approximately 1:10 of other technologies.

Preparation and installation

The modules are easy to install and Pharem offers guidance and technical support to find the best possible set-up for the facility. The modular concept and the pre-determined size of the modules gives a variety of possibilities of how and where to install PFS.

PFS is used as the final step of the wastewater treatment process and was designed to be compatible with the effluent pipes of any WWTP. The design provides a plug-and-play solution, taking advantage of the modular aspect of the system so it can be fitted to the current effluent flow of the WWTP, without incurring expensive changes to infrastructure.
The modules are best placed on a prepared area of concrete, or similar base, with easy access points at the sides of the modules. Pharem assures that the process for installing and starting up operations is planned and carried out with technical experts and process engineers on hand to custom fit the specific facility.

The number of modules needed for any facility can easily be calculated from the average waterflow of the facility. With simple installation and easy implementation, the total cost only consists of site preparation, as well as depending on any deviations from standard set-up; Pharem will offer the PFS modules free of cost.

Maintenance and full service solution

After installing the PFS, Pharem offers a full service solution through its service team and collaborators. When the wastewater treatment system is operational, Pharem will ensure that it provides continuous and high level efficiency.

Filter change is easily accomplished with simple access to the filter column unit from the side – swiftly replace the filters when needed.

During the operation of PFS, water is distributed through independent filter chambers. The filter chambers contain filter material that house the active enzymes and which break down the pollutants. Each chamber contains a pumping system for the evacuation and replacement of used filter material, with each chamber being individually controlled to regulate the flow of water into it if necessary.

Once filtration has occurred, the purified water is combined and converged before connection to the main water outflow. The filters are exchanged approximately once a month, depending on the system set-up and water flowrate. The enzymatic process is generally regarded as safe (GRAS), and compared to most other technologies, PFS provides no added safety risks to the already existing work environment.

All enzymatic filters have gone through extensive quality controls before installation, and the service team delivers and continuously maintains the system with freshly charged filters. Used filters are handled and removed by the service team to prevent any waste from being handled by the customer. Continuous quality control and testing is carried out during service intervals, providing the customer with an overview of system performance.

Martin Ryen

Pharem Biotech AB


+46 70 91 52 290




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here