Issue 3, 2022

Application of plasma for the removal of pharmaceuticals in synthetic urine


Removal of pharmaceuticals in source-separated urine is an important step toward gaining acceptance of urine-derived fertilizers among important stakeholders such as consumers, farmers, and regulatory agencies. Advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) have been studied for the removal of pharmaceuticals in various complex matrices, including treated wastewaters. A complexity associated with AOP methods that rely primarily on hydroxyl radicals as the oxidizing agents is that they readily lose effectiveness in the presence of scavengers. Here, we investigated the potential for capturing the synergistic effects of producing multiple oxidative chemical species simultaneously in a plasma reactor to oxidize six pharmaceuticals (acetaminophen, atenolol, 17α-ethynyl estradiol, ibuprofen, naproxen, and sulfamethoxazole) in source-separated urine being processed into a fertilizer. The results show that the plasma reactor produced hydroxyl radicals as the primary oxidizing agent and the effects of other oxidizing species were minimal. Plasma experienced scavenging in both fresh and hydrolyzed urine; furthermore, it oxidized pharmaceuticals at similar rates across both matrices. Additionally, the negative impacts of electrical discharge formation stemming from increased solution conductivity appeared to plateau. The energy required per order of magnitude of pharmaceutical transformed was up to 2 orders of magnitude higher for plasma than for a traditional UV/H2O2 reactor and depended upon the matrix. Despite scavenging and energy concerns, plasma can oxidize pharmaceuticals in fresh and hydrolyzed urine and is worthy of further development for on-site or building-scale applications where the value of convenience, simplicity, and performance offsets energy efficiency concerns.

Graphical abstract: Application of plasma for the removal of pharmaceuticals in synthetic urine

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
23 Nov 2021
03 Jan 2022
First published
14 Jan 2022
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Environ. Sci.: Water Res. Technol., 2022,8, 523-533

Application of plasma for the removal of pharmaceuticals in synthetic urine

E. E. Rodriguez, W. A. Tarpeh, K. R. Wigginton and N. G. Love, Environ. Sci.: Water Res. Technol., 2022, 8, 523 DOI: 10.1039/D1EW00863C

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence. You can use material from this article in other publications without requesting further permissions from the RSC, provided that the correct acknowledgement is given.

Read more about how to correctly acknowledge RSC content.

Social activity