Optical measurement equipment that allows real-time measuring of microplastics in water is under development

The current microplastics analysis technology, which consists of taking water samples and studying those samples in laboratory conditions, is a work-intensive and time-consuming method. The University of Oulu’s Kajaani Unit of Measurement Technology and Kajaani University of Applied Sciences have launched a joint research project with the aim of developing a new compact field device for real-time measurement of microplastics in water.

Increased use of plastic products, inadequate recycling and collection systems for materials and transport have led to a situation in which increasing amounts of harmful microplastics are being detected in the water, soil and even in the atmosphere. Microscopic plastic particles easily end up in small organisms and eventually make their way through the entire food chain. International research on this global problem has increased and currently includes topics ranging from evaluating the health impacts of microplastics to developing replacement materials that are more environmentally friendly.

The REMMI project jointly run by the University of Oulu’s Kajaani Unit of Measurement Technology Unit (MITY) and Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (KAMK) is developing a new and faster method of measuring microplastics in water as well as equipment suitable for field use. This equipment will make it possible to monitor the concentration of microplastics in water in real time.

MITY is responsible for developing an optics-based measurement technology and performing the field testing. KAMK’s role in the project involves determining the most common sources of microplastics and water system transport routes in the Kainuu area in addition to testing new filtration materials for the removal of microplastics. The field tests in the project will be performed at water treatment plants.

Preparations to commercialise the equipment are also being made in connection with the project, as there is demand for new technology in companies and industry.

“The Municipal Waste Authority of Kainuu (Ekokymppi) handles a lot of waste that contains plastic. At this time, there is no information concerning where microplastics come from and how they move from the waste centre area to water systems,” says Environmental Manager Eero Piirainen from Ekokymppi.

“Water treatment plants have no way of monitoring how, for example, different process circumstances affect microplastic concentrations. Indicative and continuous measurement suitable for field use combined with measurement data from the treatment plant process could make this possible,” says CEO Annika Hämäläinen from Teollisuustaito Oy.

This is a two-year project with a budget of EUR 396,000. The project is funded by the North Ostrobothnia ELY Centre via ERDF funding, Valmet Automation Oy, Kaiku Ympäristö Oy and the Municipal Waste Authority of Kainuu (Ekokymppi).

The University of Oulu’s Kajaani Unit of Measurement Technology (MITY) is a Kajaani-based unit of the University of Oulu that focuses on developing measurement technology, conducts high-quality research and provides services to companies in the Kainuu region and global operators. The unit operates in two application areas: cleantech and health and well-being. Approximately 40 highly educated researchers and professionals in the areas of measurement technology and analytics work in the unit.

Last updated: 12.11.2020