Mercury can be reduced from waste water discharge to satisfy GLI criteria, scientists report

Though more specific study is necessary, scientific researchers of Purdue University Calumet’s Water Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory expressed optimism today (3/20) that satisfying the Great Lakes Initiative’s mercury discharge criteria is possible.

During the final update presentation, held at Purdue Calumet, of their nearly five-year, BP-funded study, “Emerging Technologies and Approaches to Minimize Discharges into Lake Michigan,” the research scientists reported that alternative technologies exist for use in meeting the new lower mercury discharge requirement of 1.3 parts per trillion (ppt).

“This project shows at the bench and pilot scale that mercury can be removed from wastewater to meet the 1.3 ppt Great Lakes criterion,” Argonne National Laboratory agronomist and environmental engineer Cristina Negri, who is co-principal investigator of the study, said. “The project also has provided significant direction in developing viable approaches to protect the Great Lakes water resources. These project results will be useful to other dischargers facing the challenge of meeting the Great Lakes criterion and to regulators and others interested in water quality policy.”

The scientists tested numerous technologies during their research. Though they recommend more long-term pilot scale studies, and further research on treatment options for reject and backwash streams, their analysis, they say, reveals interesting and significant advances in treating mercury. Such advances, they contend, also may be applicable to treating other types of mercury-contained wastewater.

D. George Nnanna - Director, Purdue Water Institute
D. George Nnanna – Director, Purdue Water Institute

“This multi-year project presented a unique opportunity for community, industry, government and academia to address collaboratively complex wastewater issues to protect Lake Michigan,” Purdue Calumet Water Institute Director, Co-Principal Investigator and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering George Nnanna said. “Our research team applied meticulous scientific methodology to conduct within a ‘clean room’ environment more than 30 bench-scale treatability studies in seven technological categories. Two technologies were further tested at pilot scale.”

The study, which began in September, 2007, achieved BP’s objectives.

“BP is committed to providing U.S. consumers with the energy they need in an environmentally responsible manner,” Whiting Refinery Health Safety Security and Environmental Manager Mitch Beekman said. “This collaboration with Purdue University Calumet and Argonne National Laboratory helps in that effort by contributing to the existing body of knowledge on wastewater treatment.”

The study was divided into two phases. Phase 1 focused on identifying technologies for use in removing total suspended solids and ammonia in wastewater treatment. During Phase 2, consisting of four modules, the scientists scrutinized existing and emerging technologies for removing mercury, vanadium, selenium and arsenic from wastewater.

Several existing and cutting-edge technologies were identified for testing at the bench scale (in-the-lab scale) level.  Finally, several of the best-performing technologies—namely, Ultrafiltration, Adsorption and Reactive Filtration—were selected for pilot scale testing.

The fourth and final module of the study focused on actual pilot scale testing and the results of those tests. Vendors provided equipment and expertise, while BP offered the testing sites at its Whiting refinery. Argonne and Purdue Calumet Water Institute scientists designed tests in collaboration with the vendors, monitored results and issued reports. External labs collected and analyzed test samples.

“The scope of this project was comprehensive, the technology review process was transparent, and the findings were exemplary and are referenced by industry, municipalities, and academia for future follow-up,” Nnanna said.

Beekman added, “As the largest oil and gas investor in the U.S. over the past five years, BP is proud to have provided financial and technical support for this effort.”

More detailed information about the entire comprehensive study can be obtained by visiting:

Copies of presentation materials from this update are available online at:

About the Purdue University Calumet Water Institute

The Purdue University Calumet Water Institute (PWI) conducts research and offers educational programs about water resources while assisting local, regional and state agencies, as well as the private sector in economic development and resolving water-related issues. The PWI provides an interdisciplinary approach to complex issues dealing with water efficiency, quality, economy and security. The institute’s researchers conduct extensive studies aimed at advancing the state-of-the-art in water resource management and developing reliable tools to inform decision makers about economic development concerns.

About the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.