A little DRAM is good for you and the environment



As any good Scot will tell you, a little dram (of whisky, usually) is good for you now and then. But researchers at the University of Aberdeen have found that a by-product from the production of Scotland’s national drink can be used to clean contaminated ground and waste water in a pioneering new technique potentially worth millions.

The innovative technology – known as DRAM (Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants) - has massive potential for industry as groundwater contamination is a major problem and can hold up or even prevent land development as well as being a hazard to health and the environment, says a University Press Release.

In the UK it is estimated that there are 330,000 contaminated sites - these former industrial areas are now blighted by pollutants that have leached into the land. These areas will have housed all types of industry from small dry cleaning firms and car servicing companies to large refinery and chemical plants. The UK’s annual estimated expenditures on land remediation or clean up is £1.2 billion (CAD$2.4 billion).

Until now there has been no single solution for the treatment of contaminated groundwater as different pollutants require different clean up methods that are costly and take time.

But DRAM, which the University announced earlier this month at its Innovate with Aberdeen - Frontiers of Excellence event in Edinburgh, is the first process that removes multiple pollutants simultaneously in a pioneering move that is far quicker and more cost effective than current clean up techniques.

While the new technology has so far only utilized a whisky by-product – the first time it has ever been used this way – tests demonstrate the technique could also deploy other by-products from food and drink production. These by-products are enhanced and incorporated into a unique patented device which can be introduced into contaminated waters in a variety of ways.

Scottish Enterprise has provided almost £300,000 (CAD$613,000) of funding into the research via its Proof of Concept Programme, which aims to improve the level and quality of commercialisation within Scotland’s universities, research institutes and NHS Boards.

World famous Speyside distillery Glenfiddich has also helped researchers get to this stage by donating the by-product for use in the technology.

The University of Aberdeen researchers – Dr Graeme Paton, Professor Ken Killham and Dr Leigh Cassidy – are considering forming a spinout company to commercialize the technology that could be licensed to land consultants and other companies involved in remediation.

Dr Paton, a leading soil toxicologist, said: 'DRAM is a groundbreaking technology created and progressed at the University of Aberdeen. The clean up of contaminated groundwater is an absolutely massive global market. The technology that we have developed here at Aberdeen is environmentally friendly, sustainable and has the potential to put Scotland at the forefront for remediation technologies. It is not just the deployment that is novel but also the underpinning technology to predict the success.'

Professor Ken Killham, Professor of Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen, and a leading authority on the assessment and remediation of contaminated land, said: 'There is an urgent need to develop and apply sustainable technologies and to couple these to proven approaches. We should not just think about the remediation of high value land in expanding residential areas but also those forgotten sites that constitute most of the UK contaminated land bank.'

Pre-field trials of DRAM conducted in the West Coast of Scotland have shown a 99.96% success rate. Field trials are now about to begin in Glasgow.

Background notes issued by the Communications Team, of the University of Aberdeen state that the DRAM technology is different to current remediation techniques in a number of ways:

  • It is the first technology that can remove metal contaminants at the same time as degrading organic pollutants such as pesticides.
  • No intervention is required to apply it to contaminated sites as it can use existing infrastructure and remain in place unobtrusively for years.
  • Other processes used in the clean up of sites require expensive equipment to be brought onto site, trenches to be dug and fences erected. Sometimes the cost of this, together with deadlines for remediation, means it is too costly to clean up the land.
  • As the new technology is more cost effective than existing techniques it can be applied to low value land that might not have been regenerated before.
  • The new technique can be gradually or intensely applied. This means long term strategies could be developed for contaminated land or quicker clean ups implemented if the land is of high value.

Eleanor Taylor, Head of the Proof of Concept Programme at Scottish Enterprise, added: 'Scotland is leading the UK and Europe in providing routes for our researchers to take their technology innovations out of the lab and turn them into growing Scottish businesses.'

The Proof of Concept Programme currently supports 206 projects, which have collectively leveraged over £210 million in post-Programme funding, and has created over 500 new jobs, 40 spin-out/start-up companies and 38 licences.

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