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RA2: Environment

The research activities in Environment cover a range of multi-disciplinary scientific areas by placing emphasis on the development of methods, eco-innovative technologies, and numerical tools for the monitoring of pollutant fate in air, water, and soil, the restoration of polluted natural resources, the effective treatment and recovery of valuable products, raw materials and energy from wastes, and the solution of problems related to air pollution and climate change. All these activities are categorized into three major groups, namely:

The various activities are shown in the chart and outlined in detail below.



  • Soil & Groundwater Pollution and Natural Attenuation. Liquid pollutants released from point (e.g. oil spills) or diffuse (e.g pesticides) sources may migrate downwards and subsequently contaminate the unsaturated (vadoze) and saturated (aquifer) zones of the subsurface. Natural attenuation relies on a complex network of physical (e.g., spreading of the plume in soil, volatilization), chemical (e.g., oxidation, chemisorption), and biochemical (intrinsic biodegradation by indigenous microorganisms) processes. The research activities include a combination of experimental and theoretical methods with emphasis on the following subjects:
  • Figure2Development of high resolution methodologies of pore structure characterization for strongly heterogeneous soils.
  • Development of experimental setups and numerical models tomonitor the transient evolution of immiscible / miscible flow and pollutant dissolution in Figure3Figure4disturbed / undisturbed soil columns, and estimate all pertinent multiphase transport coefficients (e.g. relative permeability curves, dispersion coefficients, etc)
  • Characterization and monitoring of pollutants fate using advanced andFigure5 high precision equipment (GC/MS, LC/MS, Ion Chromatograph, TOC/TNA, etc.).
  • Prediction of the spreading of the plume of contaminants with the Figure6appropriate combination of commercial software packages of pollutant migration and transformation in soil and aquifers with in-house developed pore networks.
  • Investigation of the dynamics of trace metals mobilization and theFigure7 subsequent introduction of hazardous materials (e.g. heavy metals) in groundwater due to CO2 leakages from storage sites.
  • Soil Remediation Technologies. The number of potentially contaminated sites identified in European Union (EU) is estimated to be over 3,000,000 whereas that of of heavily contaminated sites over 450,000 . The total cost for the remediation of contaminated sites is around 120 billion. Research activities at the Institute focus on the testing and optimization of sustainable in situ and ex situ soil and groundwater remediation technologies of minimum environmental fingerprint and energy consumption.
  • Design and testing of lab-scale and pilot-scale experiments to elucidate Figure8Figure9the dominant mechanisms, and assess the efficiency of the in situ remediation technologies.
  • Soil remediation by advanced oxidation processes. Experimental Figure10studies in lab-scale reactors have indicated that non-thermal plasma (NTP) discharge can be used as an advanced oxidation method for the sustainable remediation of soil contaminated by recalcitrant organic pollutants at very low cost.
  • Immobilization of pollutants. Heavy metals or metalloids dissolved in groundwater are immobilized by adsorption (physical) and /or complexation.
  • Nanotechnology has special relevance to the in situ soil and groundwater remediation. A key issue is to develop tailor-made nanofluids for mitigating target pollutants in soil and groundwater under realistic conditions.
  • Sand Consolidation and Stabilization. Salt deposition within porous media is aFigure11 severe problem encountered in environmental and industrial applications. In oil recovery industry, deposition of salts in porous formations causes reduction of oil production, while similar problems occur in geothermal systems, water Figure12Figure13desalination membranes, CO2 sequestration, subsoil wells, etc. On the other hand, salt precipitation in porous media can be exploited for the effective consolidation of unconsolidated formations, or sandy materials or soils. Investigation of the in-situ precipitation of sparingly soluble salts (e.g. calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate) on the grain surfaces of soil or stone materials and of the resulting mechanical properties of the consolidated formations is carried out.



Growth that is based on unsustainable use of the planets resources is no longer sustainable. Recognizing this means that resource-dependent Europe must be at the forefront of finding and promoting new sources of growth. Eco-efficiency stands for doing more or the same with less, and it means resource efficiency (using and reusing resources more efficiently throughout economy) and eco-innovation (developing and using products, processes and other solutions that contribute to environmental protection or efficient use of resources). Eco-efficiency has the potential to become the next European success story, helping to deliver the Europe 2020 strategys objectives of driving smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

  • Physicochemical and Biological Methods of Waste Treatment. The research activities are focused on the development of eco-innovative and sustainable methods for treatment of liquid and solid waste and recovery of valuable compounds.Figure14
  • Cost-effective treatment and exploitation of agroindustrial waste streams (recovery of phenolic compounds, soil improvements etc)
  • Membrane-based treatment of industrial wastewaters.
  • Recovery of phosphorus from activated sludge of municipal wastewaterFigure15 treatment plants.
  • Wastewater treatment for energy efficient nutrients removal using trickling filter nitrification / denitrification
  • Fate and impact of xenobiotics in environmental technology processes.Figure16
  • Biological filter for water and wastewater treatment.Figure17
  • Production of Biopolymers from Waste(water)s.
  • Recycling of Construction Materials. The recycling of end-of-life concrete into new concrete is a challenge for reducing use of natural resources and emissions from the building materials sector. The production of the cement used in concrete, for example, is responsible for about 5% of worldwide CO2 emissions. A new system approach is studied that involves a patented breaker/sorting technology for inexpensive, mechanical separation of fines and feed into cement kilns. FORTH/ICE-HT coordinates the modeling efforts with the aim to provide an integrated code for the simulation of the kiln operation taking into account the regular raw meal feed but also the recycled stream from the milled demolition waste. The project demonstration stage involves demolition of two towers of 70,000 tons of concrete and is expected to provide valuable guidelines for the formulation of strategies and policies for optimal recovery of construction materials.Figure18
  • Monuments Preservation & Restoration. The deterioration of building materialsFigure19 of historical monuments including limestone and marble is investigated and the kinetics and thermodynamics of processes is analysed in detail. On the basis of this mechanistic information, strategies for the protection of the built cultural heritage are designed, either in the form of active inhibition of the chemical dissolution process or through the development of protective coatings, which may provide additionalFigure20 protection by destroying organic pollutants by photocatalytic processes. Moreover, the damage due to the crystallization of soluble salts (e.g. sodium sulphate, magnesium sulphate) is investigated and preservation methods are designed based on the mechanism of salt formation.



Laboratory and field measurements are combined with model development and application to solve problems related to local, urban, regional, and global air quality and their interactions with climate change.

  • Control Strategies for Atmospheric Ozone, Particulate Matter, and Acidity. Air pollution problems have been traditionally treated separately from each other, Figure21often resulting in sub-optimal choices of emission control strategies. Comprehensive three-dimensional mathematical models describing the interplay of pollutant emissions, atmospheric homogeneous and heterogeneous chemistry, dispersion, and removal processes leading to major air pollution problems are developed. After evaluation against observations, these tools are used for the identification of cost-effective emissionFigure22 controls for the reduction of damages caused by multiple pollutants.
  • Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Climate Change. The interactions between the anthropogenic perturbations of the atmospheric chemical composition and climate are investigated in a number of projects. These include studies of the role of atmospheric aerosols in the earth's radiative balance, changes in the oxidative capacity of the atmosphere, the anthropogenic perturbations in the remote marine atmosphere, and the long range transport of atmospheric trace components.
  • Formation and Properties of Atmospheric Aerosols. The partitioning of semi-volatile atmospheric aerosol components between the gas and particulate phases is investigated. The role of the organic aerosol components on the ability of atmospheric particles to absorb water is a major focus of this research. The formation, growth, and removal of atmospheric nanoparticles and their role on human health, climate change and air quality are studies in the lab, in the field and through the development of dedicated chemical transport models.Figure23


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