Young researcher receives EliteForsk travel grant for his groundbreaking work to find new methods for using electric fields to clean up contaminated sites and for the sustainable extraction of metals.
Riccardo Sprocati has always been interested in how we can live and use technologies sustainably. This interest has gone hand in hand with a fascination regarding the vast number of opportunities offered by digitalization and artificial intelligence. He has combined these two interests in his work in the past couple of years, using artificial intelligence to develop and improve a promising environmental remediation technology.
The technology is in situ electrokinetic remediation, which uses electric fields to clean up contaminated soil and groundwater. Such technology has great potential for removing environmentally hazardous substances from subsurface porous media with low permeability such as clay and moraine clay.
“The first hurdle in optimizing the technology was to develop a flexible mathematical model that can take into account the many complex geochemical reactions that occur in the subsurface during the transport of contaminants” says Riccardo Sprocati, who is employed at DTU Environment.
Remarkable new complex model
After several months of work, he succeeded in developing a comprehensive new model, ‘NP-Phreeqc-EK’, which reflects the great complexity of the task. By means of artificial intelligence, it has also become possible for Riccardo Sprocati to reduce the time for the calculations in the model from several hours to milliseconds, making it possible to work with the model in real-time and allowing the quick evaluation of different operational conditions.
The new model has been published in several renowned scientific journals. In a collaboration with the Capital Region of Denmark, it has been applied in a pilot project in a contaminated site, providing a greater understanding of the technique and has clearly demonstrated the practical applicability of the model.
Sustainable mining operations
The next part of Riccardo Sprocati’s work focuses on using electrokinetic techniques in a completely different field. Here the objective is to replace traditional mining operations with sustainable extraction of, for example, copper and gold without excavation, therefore minimizing the amount of mining waste and the environmental impact.
“DTU Environment possesses great expertise and knowledge about geochemical processes and transport in porous media. The travel grant gives me the opportunity to go to the University of Western Australia, which is a leading expert in mining hydrogeology and underground processes,” says Riccardo Sprocati.
This knowledge will enable him to work with electrokinetic experiments in rock ores, after which the technology can be scaled up and optimized for use in mining operations.
Sustainable environmental innovation
As a result of the current coronavirus situation, the stay in Australia has been postponed for the time being, but Riccardo Sprocati hopes to go later this year or next year. In any circumstance, he would like to continue to work with sustainable environmental innovations and software development.
“With my work, I hope to contribute to the advance in environmental science and engineering by taking advantage of the great opportunities that artificial intelligence offers. Today, by combining environmental observations with numerical modeling and machine learning, we can do things that just a few years ago were not possible,” he says.