Research Project

MIP-Based System for Water Quality Monitoring

Oil rig in the Artic. Source:

Research Work

A platform technology based on molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) at a technology readiness level (TRL) 6—capable of selective uptake of oil-related and other compounds in water—has been developed through the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) project Sensing System for Detection and Tracking of Oil in Marine Waters in Harsh Climates at Memorial University. During this and other Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) sponsored research projects conducted by the Bottaro Group, the versatility of the MIPs has been demonstrated in water monitoring applications for various contaminants in several aqueous media: indicators of oil in seawater and produced water; a range of pharmaceutical compounds in wastewater; emerging contaminants of concern such as disinfectant by-products and herbicides in wastewater and drinking water; and pesticides, caffeine and cotinine in surface water.

The primary goal of the proposed project is to translate the MIP-based platform technology from TRL 6 (prototype demonstration in a simulated environment) to TRL 9 (technology proven through successful deployment in an operational setting) for characterization of the abovementioned and other water contaminants. Two key types of operational settings will drive the scope of the technology development and validation: waterworks operations (municipal and industrial) and oil & gas operations in Arctic environments. The technology translation will comprise a multistage, disciplined idea-to-launch approach to render them suitable for deployment in various operational conditions and become commercially viable alternatives to existing and emerging methods for water quality assessment.

The fabrication of thin-film MIPs proposed here will build on methodologies developed through the aforementioned research projects by the Bottaro Group that have passed peer-review scrutiny and have been published. Arising from the collective expertise in the Bottaro Group, other unpublished preparation methods and MIP formulations for additional emerging contaminants of concern are under examination to assess their suitability for patent protection. We expect to grow our portfolio of MIPs for other target analytes (chemical species) based on a clear new product development strategy consistent with a customer-centric approach, i.e., voice of the customer. There are approximately 100 compounds that need to be tested on a regular basis to fulfill regulatory requirements for water quality. Although, it is not difficult to find an "opportunity for a new water quality measurement," it will be very important to present solutions to the customers in a mutually beneficial/profitable manner. Customers have always encouraged the development of better, cleaner technologies for a host of water quality measurements and although much has been done, there is still a need for more sensitive, rapid in situ sampling and detection for water quality assessment.

Traditional wastewater treatment systems target microorganisms and key chemical macro-components in the effluents, disregarding many other compounds that are not regulated or are difficult to measure frequently. However, new technologies provide for better detection and treatment options for a wide range of regulated and emerging micro-contaminants. Decisions by government regulators on what to measure, how often and the thresholds requiring mitigation, are driven by evolving understandings of the effects and the availability of detection and treatment technologies. For example, disinfectant by-products, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are now being found—at parts per billion and parts per trillion levels—in many public drinking water systems in Canada and the U.S. This raises scientific and public health concerns about the way these compounds degrade and behave in the human body and the environment. Despite the lack of definitive evidence of the long-term effects of all chemicals detected, water authorities and health organizations advocate for increased monitoring of these compounds in wastewater, source-water and drinking water.

In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new list of contaminants known as the third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Regulation (UCMR 3) that is now part of the municipal waterworks (optional) testing. The UCMR 3 testing helps municipal waterworks operators measure the occurrence and exposure of contamination levels that may endanger human health. The list of 30 contaminants (28 chemicals and two viruses) is divided into three groups according to the available testing methods: 1) Assessment monitoring: relies on common analytical method technologies used by water laboratories; 2) Screening survey: monitoring uses more specialized analytical method technologies not as commonly used by water laboratories; and 3) Pre-screen testing: relies on newer method technologies not commonly used by water laboratories. In Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment has some of the most stringent regulations around the quality of drinking water. Current regulatory limits can be found in their Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002, Ontario Regulation 169/03. The next stage should be to mandate treatment to remove or reduce the occurrence of emerging target contaminants. This requires fast, distributed monitoring of influent and treatment systems.