PhoCatZo, or the fourth step
TruTraTrec is breaking new ground in wastewater treatment
Mohammed Mehrjouei always knew he wanted to start his own company. ‘I have many ideas,’ says the 41-year-old. Seeking to break new ground in wastewater treatment, Mehrjouei conceived and developed a new photoreactor, which he also wrote his PhD thesis on. He now wants to put these ideas into practice. His company, TruTraTrec, develops and produces clean, sustainable, and smart solutions for wastewater treatment. To do this, the young company, which is currently taking part in the Adlershof Founder’s Lab, uses a relatively recent technology called advanced oxidation process (AOP).
‘Wastewater,’ Mohammed Mehrjouei begins to explain, ‘is cleaned in three stages: mechanically, biologically, and chemically.’ Despite these three stages, pollutants can remain in the water, particularly in severely contaminated wastewater. In medicine, for example, this can include remains of hormones and pharmaceuticals. ‘Our procedure complements the treatment process with a fourth stage. When completed, the treated water has drinking water quality.’
Born in Iraq in 1977, Mehrjouei moved to Iran with his family, where he grew up and went to university to study chemistry. Why chemistry? ‘Isn’t it wonderful to explore life’s intricate details?’ says Mehrjouei and adds: ‘If I hadn’t become a chemist, I probably would have become a cook.’
In Teheran, Mehrjouei worked as a project head in research and development for a company that developed varnishes. After completing his master’s degree in 2011, his wish was to continue studying. ‘I liked my work, but I wanted to do more research.’ Mehrjouei looked for a PhD position, first in Iran, then in Europe, the US, and Canada. After two weeks, he received a positive reply from the BTU Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus-Senftenberg.
He first came to Adlershof as a research associate of the BTU’s department for air chemistry and air pollution control, where he researched, developed, and built novel reactors for wastewater treatment for his PhD thesis.
‘There is a growing demand for new, effective procedures to treat wastewater,’ he says. An increase in official requirements and growing environmental awareness both affect his demand. At the same time, the amount of documented pollutants is growing due to ever more granular analytical methods. Lastly, the toxicity of many chemical compounds has only recently been discovered. Conventional cleaning methods can deal with many of these pollutants, however, some of them are difficult to cope with. Oxidation is already being applied in many procedures for chemical wastewater treatment that are on the market. However, ordinary oxygen is not always sufficient to break down pollutants and kill germs.
Mehrjouei’s reactor ‘PhoCatZo’ resembles an oversized fridge. He built the two-by-two-metre machine in a garage in the southeast of Berlin. The reactor’s ozone generator turns oxygen into concentrated ozone. The next step consists of mixing water and oxygen and running it through the reactor, where it is sprinkled onto a glass pane – the photocatalyst - by ‘small showers.’ The photocatalyst is activated by UV light and proceeds to clean the wastewater. Photocatalysis does not require additional chemical substances, making it a the most environmentally friendly and sustainable technology. During his dissertation, Mehrjouei brought five such reactors from the design phase to application. ‘First, everything was built on a lab scale for about two litres an hour,’ he says. The prototype in his garage, on the other hand, is fully functional and can treat five cubic metres per hour. He is currently talking to future customers, he says. The machine is ready, and customers are already bringing wastewater samples. After running through the process in Mehrjouei’s garage, they receive the results. ‘It’s getting a lot of attention,’ says the chemist.
By Rico Bigelmann for Adlershof Journal