A Brussels materials manufacturer is giving new technology a shot at removing selenium and other heavy metals from its wastewater.

Based on trials at its Hoboken, Belgium, plant, Munich-based Umicore will use a new system in which biofilters seeded with specific strains of naturally occurring non-pathogenic microorganisms will produce treated effluent wastewater that meets or exceeds stringent regulatory standards for removal of selenium and other heavy metals.

The ABMet system, short for GE’s advanced biological metals removal process is a wastewater bioreactor technology that will be employed to clean up metals from wastewater discharges at Umicore’s precious metals recycling facility near Antwerp, Belgium. As the first full-scale installation of ABMet in Europe, the project will help Umicore achieve low parts-per-billion levels of heavy metals in wastewater discharges.

The simple low-energy system can achieve up to 99 percent removal of selenium and can discharge treated effluent containing 5 ppb or less of selenium, depending on wastewater makeup, according to GE.

The Hoboken facility recovers a range of precious and specialty metals from recycled industrial and consumer goods, producing a complex wastewater stream requiring different unit operations to remove and recover metals before discharge.

The ABMet system comprises microbes seeded in a bed of activated carbon, which acts as a growth medium for the microbes to create a biofilm. Wastewater passes through the biofilm and a reduction reaction occurs, facilitating the conversion of soluble selenium into elemental selenium, which is then removed from the system along with other metals and nitrate. A proprietary molasses-based product is used as a nutrient for the microbes. Other than the addition of the nutrient, the system is self-sustaining once established.