The rapid pace in technological and agronomical advancement has adversely affected our surroundings creating serious environmental and health threats due to an imbalance in the biosphere. Climate change is expected to impact a number of regions across the world and mankind will begin to suffer from harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. Sustainable water management, water infrastructure and access to a safe, reliable and affordable supply of water and adequate sanitation services improve living standards, expand local economies and lead to the creation of more decent jobs and greater social inclusion. Sustainable water management is also an essential driver of green growth and sustainable development. New technologies and strategies need to be developed either for the reduction or elimination of toxic compounds from a process, or removal of toxic compounds from our environment.

The need for environmental monitoring has become increasingly vital to safeguard the community and the environment from the harmful effects of toxic contaminants and pathogens released into air, soil, and water from chemical wastes, persistent pesticides, oil spills and manufacturing wastes. Accurate detection/monitoring and the removal of common airborne pollutants like NOx and CO, (Baraton et al. 2004) waterborne harmful agents like pathogens, (Carrascosa et al. 2006) metal ions, (Borah et al. 2015) have already attracted worldwide attention and should be an active area of green technology.

Today, in addition to products that are both energy efficient and cost effective, industries are looking to enhance their contribution to a better environment by making a smaller environmental footprint when it comes to the very materials. Sustainable materials are key to the Mistra TerraClean program.

Environmental restrictions on nitrogen from anthropogenic origin into the Gulf of Bothnia and Baltic Sea have forced the mining industry to focus on means to reduce these effluents. Of the annual 60 000 tons of nitrogen emission, 25 percent is considered to be derived from human activities, like mining and other industrial operations, municipal water treatment and farming. Mistra TerraClean has the possibility to address the major sources, mainly the mining and water treatment area with possible new solutions.

The economic value of this would be immense. The potential for capturing the nitrogen from mining is calculated to be at least 500 tons/year and most certainly it could be addressed with the suggested new concepts. Nitrogen emissions from a single zinc mine amounts to 12-22 tons/year (mining capacity 30-50 m3/h (250 000 – 450 000 m3/year), with a nitrogen level of 50 mg/L (50 g/m3)). An international market potential would be huge in this area, worth several hundred million of SEK per year.

The Swedish government has set an overarching “Generation aim” for its environmental policies, so that in the handover to coming generations we must have solved the major environmental problems of today without causing increased environmental and health problems within or beyond our borders. This aim places considerable demands on the development of modern Swedish society towards
sustainability and are thus the subject of the technical innovations presented in this work.

The smartly engineered filtration materials detailed in this project form the backbone of a number of novel applications in improving air and water quality, in a number of “real-world” scenarios of national importance. The production and use of these novel materials requires assessment of potential negative impact on human and environmental health. The scientific skill base, methods and processes used in such investigations also underlie efforts to assess the potential positive impact of the materials on the specific health and environmental aims and standards addressed in each case study. Finally, this skill base and experience also supports a variety of interactive activities between the consortium and different national societal stakeholders, including policy makers, regulatory authorities, commercial interests and the general public, all vital in anchoring the impact of the consortium and its findings in future national commercial competitiveness, hand in hand with a sustainably improved environment.

Emerging micropollutants in the water environment as a result of increased production and use of chemicals is a major challenge. Conventional treatment techniques are not efficient enough for many of the emerging micropollutants and calls for new cost-efficient treatment technology. There is also a need to develop methods for the detection and identification of hazardous micropollutants. The EU framework directive on water (2000/60/EG) was introduced to achieve good ecological and chemical water status. This will increase the pressure on wastewater installations and on an improved management of pollutants in storm water.
The Mistra TerraClean program and its outcomes are hence highly relevant and aim to provide material solutions for a range of timely and global concerns:

i. Chemical and microbiological barriers: microbial barriers for resource-efficient reduction of pathogens (protozoa, bacteria and virus) as well as methods to assess the effectiveness of these barriers are urgently needed. New knowledge is required about the combination of microbiological barriers needed to meet future challenges. The barriers against chemical pollutants such as heavy metals, uranium, petroleum products, algal toxins, pesticides and drug residues require improvement to maintain function under different operating conditions and in different steps of the treatment process

ii. Reduction of natural organic matter: Efforts are needed to develop more effective and safe treatment technology for removal of organic pollutants, such as membrane technology.

Cost-effective treatment methods (at wastewater treatment plants): There is a clear need for cost-effective treatment methods and in some cases analytical methods for both old and “new” chemical pollutants (pharmaceutical residues, pesticides, petroleum products, etc.).