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A Novel Approach for the Treatment of Textile Dyeing Effluents


Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department of Environmental
Microbiology, Permoserstrasse 15, D-04318 Leipzig, Germany
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The colour industries represented an important economical factor in Europe until the end of 20th
century. Due to strict environmental regulations and high labour costs in Europe, a major part of
these traditional industrial activities has now shifted to the developing world. During dyeing
processes about 10 to 40% of dyes do not bind to their target substrates and therefore remain
in the resulting wastewaters. Their discharge into the environment causes considerable risks to
living organisms and is further problematic due to aesthetically undesired colourisations.
Importing of dyes from South-East-Asian countries where they are produced under conditions
not acceptable in Europe increases the world-wide sum of pollution.
Textile dyes are designed to resist fading upon exposure to sweat, light, water, oxidising
agents, and microbial attack. Therefore, they are hardly removed from effluents by conventional
wastewater treatment. These effluents can be treated by a number of physico-chemical
processes. However, such methods are of limited use due to different constraints such as costs,
general applicability, and production of solid wastes. Biotechnological treatment of dye-
containing wastewaters provides a promising alternative. Unfavourable conditions found in
effluents of textile dyeing effluents such as high salt loads and extreme pH values are known to
inhibit conventional biological wastewater treatment processes. Moreover, various azo dyes
have been shown to be anaerobically decolourised by cleavage of the azo bond, resulting in the
formation of potentially cancerogenic aromatic amines. Terrestrial white-rot fungi (WRF)
represent a group of organisms frequently considered for oxidative dye treatment and are able
to decolourise many dyes through the use of relatively non-specific extracellular oxidative
enzymes also involved in lignin breakdown. However, unfavourable conditions often found in
process effluents such as high contents of inorganic ions and alkaline pH values obviously limit
their practical applicability. To overcome this problem under simultaneous use of the
advantages of fungi unspecifically acting on a wide variety of environmental pollutants with
different structures, our work focuses on fungi isolated from aquatic environments. Aquatic
ecosystems represent an as yet only scarcely explored source of new fungi that are possibly
more suitable than other organisms for the treatment of certain wastewaters since the living
conditions and hence possible organismic adaptions found there may better fit to unfavourable
characteristics of process effluents.
We were able to show higher decolourisation abilities of aquatic fungal strains when
using different model wastewaters covering the most typical conditions found in dyeing
effluents, as compared to a well investigated WRF strain. The higher robustness and a better
all-round performance of aquatic fungi makes them promising candidates for further
biotechnological exploitation. Starting from laboratory-scale results, future research will
concentrate on the development of industrial treatment processes in collaboration with small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The presented work is part of the EU project ‘SOPHIED’
(Novel Sustainable Bioprocesses for European Colour Industries), which besides research
activities has developed a strong structure to manage innovation related activities,
dissemination of results, demonstration activities, mobility, and training. As SOPHIED has
established a partnership among 17 SMEs, 7 universities and 3 research centres from 10
European countries, it serves as a valuable basis to collaborate with SMEs all over Europe and
thus to facilitate exchange of knowledge and skills between science and industry. New,
environmentally friendly, and cost-efficient biotechnological processes and their exploitation by
EU SMEs is expected to foster the development of new niche markets and to create
employment under conditions ensuring sustainability. Hence, such developments respond to
important societal needs. Furthermore, white biotech developments in the EU will be stimulated,
resulting in a higher competetiveness of EU SMEs.