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Whisky DRAM helps clean up contaminated water

A by-product from the production of Scotland’s national drink is being used to clean contaminated ground and waste water in a pioneering new technique potentially worth millions unveiled today (Wednesday March 5) by the University of Aberdeen.

Drs Graeme Paton and Leigh Cassidy The innovative technology – known as DRAM - 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.

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 kinds of industry from small dry cleaning firms and car servicing companies to large refinery and chemical plants. The UK's annual estimated spend on land remediation or clean up is £1.2 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 – Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple pollutants – which the University is announcing today (Wednesday, March 5) 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 utilised 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 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 novel technology.

The University of Aberdeen researchers – Dr Graeme Paton, Professor Ken Killham and Dr Leigh Cassidy – are considering forming a spinout company to commercialise 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. 

"Currently we are using the by-product of Scotland's most famous export but our technology can utilise other by-products from the food and beverage industry.

"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.

"This is a genuine Scottish invention using traditional Scottish produce but has the capability of being applied to a significant global market. And in this global market we have the chance to be technology and innovation leaders." 

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."

Dr Leigh Cassidy, Research Fellow, said: "The University of Aberdeen has enabled a unique environment to apply and develop proven scientific techniques with a commercial end-user demand. Close cooperation with institutions and regulators throughout the UK is allowing the genuine application of this technology."

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 groundbreaking projects, which have collectively leveraged over £210 million in post-Programme funding, and has already created over 500 new jobs, 40 spin-out/start-up companies and 38 licences."

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.

DRAM is being launched at the Innovate with Aberdeen Frontiers of Excellence event organised by the University of Aberdeen to showcase some of the many pioneering research projects underway at the University of Aberdeen.

Around 30 researchers and support staff from the University will be at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh for the day which aims to build further links with business and policy makers.

For more information about Innovate see: 

Dr Graeme Paton and Dr Leigh Cassidy are available for interviews/photographs ahead of Wednesday's Innovate with Aberdeen The Frontiers of Excellence event.

Please contact Jennifer Phillips to arrange on 01224 273174.

** Please note the researchers are unable to specify the whisky by-product involved for commercial reasons **

More Background:

* The DRAM technology is different to current remediation techniques in a number of ways:

(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 – mean it is too costly to clean up the land).


Notes to Editors

Issued by the Communications Team, Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen. Tel: (01224) 272014.

Issued on: Wednesday 5th of March 2008

Ref: 49dram
Contact: Jennifer Phillips

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