Chemically Modified TiO2 Photocatalysts as an Alternative Disinfection Approach for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plant Effluents

D.S. Tsoukleris, M.-A. Gatou, N. Lagopati, L. Sygellou, D.C. Christodouleas, P. Falaras, E.A. Pavlatou
Water 2023, 15 (11), 2052
Among key issues in municipal wastewater treatment plants (MWTP) is the existence of pathogenic bacteria in the discarded effluents. Conventional disinfectants (ozone, UV irradiation, chlorine) have been insufficient in providing safe water due to the development of undesirable and noxious by-products. TiO2 comprises an attractive alternative to conventional methods because of its versatility and recently explored biocidal efficiency. As a result, within the framework of this study, chemically modified, visible active nanocrystalline TiO2 powders (N-TiO2, N,S-TiO2, and Ag@N-TiO2) were prepared via a low-cost, feasible sol-gel method for the treatment of real municipal wastewater effluents. Wastewater samples were acquired from the outlet of the treatment of Antiparos (Cyclades, Greece) MWTP during the summer period in which a great number of seasonal habitants and tourists usually visit the island, resulting in at least a doubling of the population. All synthesized powders were thoroughly characterized using various morphological and spectroscopic techniques, such as FE-SEM, XRD, micro-Raman, FTIR, DLS, UV-DRS, and XPS. Photocatalytic evaluation experiments were initially conducted towards Rhodamine B degradation under visible light irradiation. Among all studied powders, Ag@N-TiO2 indicated the highest efficiency, reaching total degradation (100%) of RhB within 240 min due to its smaller crystallite size (1.80 nm), enhanced surface area (81 m2g−1), and reduced energy band gap (Eg = 2.79 eV). The effect of the produced powders on the disinfection as assessed in terms of fecal indicator microorganisms (E. coli and total coliforms) inactivation was also examined in a semi-pilot scale-up photocatalytic reactor. Ag@N-TiO2 nanopowder was also found substantially more active for both groups of bacteria, leading to complete inactivation in less than 35 min, probably due to the higher production of H2O2/•OH, as emerged from the photocatalytic mechanism study. In addition, Ag@N-TiO2 nanoparticles demonstrated excellent photocatalytic and disinfection stability even after five subsequent recycling trials (8.34% activity loss and complete inactivation, respectively). The results of the present study demonstrate the feasibility for Ag@N-TiO2 to be utilized as a viable, eco-friendly approach for the photocatalytic pathogenic bacteria inactivation as an alternative disinfection approach for municipal wastewater treatment plant effluents with intense seasonal fluctuations in volume.

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