Research disciplines

We focus on three sub-disciplines:

See Staff for an overview of ongoing research topics and their researchers.

Environmental analysis

Our group studies the environmental analysis, occurrence, fate and behaviour of organic micro-pollutants. We have built up experience with respect to:

  • odour measurement (sniffing teams, olfactometry)
  • monitoring of both anthropogenic and biogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • environmental analysis of emerging contaminants like pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon deduced organics sorbed on atmospheric particulate matter

Particular points of study are:

  • the physical-chemical behaviour and partitioning of organic micropollutants in/between the different environmental matrices (air, water, soil, sediment, biota)
  • the inventarisation of their main emission sources (both anthropogenic and biogenic)
  • their spatial-temporal occurrence
  • their potential effects on ecosystems and human health

We focus on both fundamental aspects (e.g. relationships between thermodynamics and chromatographic retention) and applied aspects (evaluation/optimization of the performance characteristics of new methods/ techniques, quality control,…).

EnVOC deals with this challenging field of research through the development and optimization of advanced analytical methods including sampling and sample preparation, chromatographic separation and mainly mass spectrometric detection.

Environmental technology

This discipline is about innovative biological and physical-chemical end-of-pipe technologies to abate organic chemical pollution in mainly waste gases and wastewaters.

Specific research issues on biological waste gas purification deal with:

  • mesophilic and thermophilic biofiltration and biotrickling filtration for the removal of odorous and harmful VOCs
  • the physical transport and biodegradation of hydrophobic contaminants in innovative membrane biofilters

With respect to physical-chemical technologies, particularly advanced oxidation processes (AOPs) like:

  • ozonation
  • the ultrasound and the peroxone process (H2O2/O3)
  • TiO2 mediated heterogeneous photocatalysis and plasmacatalysis

are investigated to degrade both volatile organic compounds and emerging contaminants in both water and gas phase.

Attention is paid to the different aspects of the biological and advanced oxidation processes:

  • partitioning and mass transfer mechanisms
  • identification of intermediates and reaction pathways
  • effect of process parameters on degradation kinetics
  • reactor optimization

And we use obtained experimental data as an input to develop and validate modelling approaches.

Clean technology

Clean technology is a holistic approach that pursues environmental performance at the production itself considering the resource intake, the production technology, the product-service relation, and the end-of-life fate of the product.

The EnVOC research is mainly oriented to environmental sustainability assessment of clean(er) technologies. In contrast to classical life cycle assessment (LCA) focusing on the reduction of impact of emissions, our concept puts emphasis on the resource intake pattern and on the overall efficiency of the production and consumption chain through exergy analysis (EA) and Exergetic Life Cycle Analysis (ELCA).

Today, the activities in this field are rapidly expanding through collaborations and implementations with world leading industrial companies, e.g. Janssen Pharmaceutica and Umicore, and the government/public sector. This work has also intruded into documents of the EU: see e.g. the recent "ILCD handbook" published by JRC-EU at section 3.12.8 Resources:

"The most recent approach based on exergy is published by Jo DeWulf (Dewulf et al., 2007) and therefore included in the more profound analysis"

and has been rewarded with the Prize of Laureate of the Royal Belgian Academy of Sciences, granted to Jo Dewulf in 2008.