Sustainable water treatment with Arctic attitude

Professor Riitta Keiski, Dean of the Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu talks about the importance of sustainable water treatment in Northern Finland

The Faculty of Technology at the University of Oulu combines versatile and cross-sectorial research expertise on treating Arctic water and wastewater streams in a sustainable manner. The know-how is adapted globally also to areas characterised by drought and high population densities.

Unequally dispersed freshwater reservoirs constitute 3% of the planet´s water deposits. The proportion is decreasing due to climate change effect, growing needs of human populations, and frequently occurring soil and water contaminations. In the Northern hemisphere, freshwater is deposited as snow and ice layers in addition to surface and groundwater basins. Finland located in the Arctic Circle is known for the thousands of lakes and rivers which run into nearby seas, mainly the Baltic Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu

The University of Oulu is located in Northern Finland where mining, steel, and the forest industry are frequent. In addition, harsh climate and delicate nature set special requirements for the water treatment. Strong industry and geographical location with a relatively short distance to the Arctic Ocean have created innovative scientific research that pushes the boundaries of the well-known. Besides steel, automation and production research, the Faculty of Technology is recognised for its high-quality clean technologies, environmental engineering, as well as circular and bio-economy competences. Close cooperation with national and international research partners, industry and end-users have promoted a multidisciplinary approach to water research. We have gained excellent knowledge in hydrology, water resources, water and wastewater treatment, water supply, environmental engineering, modelling and management.

We work with water protection and treating on mining, forestry and peat harvesting areas, as well as water management related to industry and communities. While working on global, European and national issues we also plan, facilitate, and conduct research to help resolve regional and national water-related problems. We strive for a strong societal impact. We promote technology transfer, the dissemination and application of research results to societal needs and stakeholders. Sustainability and the carbon footprint of water maintenance are researched as well.

Novel wastewater treatment techniques with low-cost green materials and the role of a system and control engineering approach, and versatile water purification techniques are among our research focus areas. One of the main ideas is to use local wastes and by-products in the development of water treatment, materials and chemicals, and to recover and utilise valuable compounds existing in aqueous streams. This includes e.g. studies around the following timely research topics in water and wastewater treatment:

  • Local bio-based adsorption materials from agricultural and forestry residues for e.g. arsenic, heavy metals, organics and pathogenic microbes’ removal;
  • Advanced oxidation processes, e.g. photocatalysis and wet air oxidation, for the degradation and utilisation (H2 production) of organic pollutants in wastewaters of e.g. pharmaceutical industry and water purification plants;
  • Membrane techniques including starch and micellar enhanced membrane technologies in the separation of cations and anions, e.g. heavy metals, nitrates and sulphate from e.g. mining and industrial wastewaters;
  • Hybrid materials and methods for water purification, e.g. combining adsorption, photocatalysis and membranes;
  • Green water treatment chemicals and materials based on functionalised celluloses, and bionanochemicals based on sawdust, bark and peat;
  • Electrochemical precipitation in the treatment of water impurities; and
  • Prevention of fouling of surfaces in aqueous environments, e.g. water treatment facilities, on-line sensors and heat exchanges.

The automation research in water and wastewater management includes for example:

  • Operation of water distribution systems (WDS) and practical applications related to short-term management of hydrodynamic networks;
  • On-line optical monitoring of processes to predict effluent quality in a full-scale wastewater treatment plant;
  • Data analysis, simulation, and the development of predictive models, trend analysis and digital imaging of wastewaters in municipal and industrial environments; and
  • Fast and accurate 3D laser scanning method at subsea applications such as monitoring of underwater structures.

Visions for the future

Water-related research is becoming more important due to the increasing worldwide clean water need, water pollution and tightening environmental legislation. The global scarcity of pure drinking water is a driving force in developing cheap and easy to use water purification systems. In future, sustainable, highly selective and advanced smart materials and chemicals are provided for water purification. Low cost, effective and environmentally friendly materials are increasingly coming into use as water treatment technologies. Besides on-line analysis and automatic measures, as well as future applications in the digitalising world, via industrial internet-of-things and applications towards cyber-physical systems in the industry and infrastructure are needed.

Research units and Contact information

Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Professor Riitta Keiski,

Chemical Process Engineering, Professor Juha Tanskanen –

Energy and Environmental Engineering, Professor Eva Pongrácz,

Fibre and Particle Engineering, Professor Mirja Illikainen,

Sustainable Chemistry, Professor Ulla Lassi,

Water Resources and Environmental Engineering, Professor Björn Klöve,

Systems Engineering, Professor Enso Ikonen,

Control Engineering, Professor Kauko Leiviskä,

The Faculty of Technology,

Research Communities of the Faculty,

All Research Units of the Faculty,

Riitta Keiski, Professor

Dean of the Faculty of Technology, University of Oulu

Please note: this is a commercial profile


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