The identification of degradation pathways relevant for organic micropollutants in biological wastewater treatment processes is currently a major gap, preventing a profound evaluation of the capability of biological wastewater treatment. By elucidating the responsible enzymatic reactions of mixed microbial populations this project will cover this gap and thereby allow finding technical solutions that harness the true potential of biological processes for an enhanced biodegradation and detoxification.

Due to the multi-disciplinary approach Athene (Designing new technical wastewater treatment solutions targeted for organic micropollutant biodegradation by understanding enzymatic pathways and assessing detoxification) will have impact on the fields of biological wastewater treatment, analytical and environmental chemistry, microbiology in wastewater treatment, water and potable water reuse, biotechnology and (eco)toxicity. The multi-disciplinary approach of the project requires the involvement of co-investigators experienced in process engineering, environmental microbiology and ecotoxicology.

Athene will go far beyond state-of-the-art in the following fields: a) efficiency in chemical analysis and structure identification of transformation products at environmental relevant concentrations; b) identification of enzymatic pathways relevant for micropollutant degradation in biological wastewater treatment; c) designing innovative technical solutions to maximize biodegradation of micropollutants; d) map and model the relevant enzymatic pathways for environmental concentration levels. Furthermore, designing biological wastewater treatment processes by understanding enzymatic pathways relevant for organic micropollutants removal represents a paradigm shift for municipal wastewater treatment.

In the context of the actual scientific and political discussion about the relevance of trace organics in the aquatic environment and in drinking water, this topic is deemed as highly innovative: for its potential of proposing new technical options as well as for the gain in understanding compound persistency. Finally enzymatic reactions as well as the treatment schemes will be assessed for their capability to reduce toxicological effects, another crucial innovative approach for designing wastewater treatment in future. Hence, the success of the high risk project is based on its interdisciplinary approach, i.e. combining expertise in the fields of analytical chemistry, process engineering, microbial enzymology and ecotoxicology.

Partners: German Federal Institute for Hydrology (BfG, DE), Eawag (CH)


Start: April 1st, 2011

End: March 31st, 2017

Funding agency: European Research Council, Advanced Investigators Grant No. 267897

Budget: EUR 3.5 Mio