PyroPure could be an alternative to incineration, scientists say

Six-month study confirmed that the system helped to destroy APIs found in pharmaceutical waste on-site

Each PyroPure unit is the size of a chest freezer

Researchers at the University of York in the UK have concluded that PyroPure technology has the potential to transform the way in which hazardous waste is destroyed in clinical environments.

This conclusion follows a six-month Innovate UK-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership project in which a team from York University’s Environment Department and Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectroscopy confirmed that the system helped to destroy active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) found in pharmaceutical waste on-site.

A total of 17 of the most thermally resistant APIs were selected for the trial, which revealed that PyroPure technology destroys more than 99% of APIs in 10 of the 17 tested and an average of 94% of the ‘worst case’ pharmaceuticals.

Professor Alistair Boxall of the University’s Environment Department and former member of the DEFRA Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee headed the study. On the future of PyroPure as an alternative to high temperature incineration, he said: 'There are big concerns over the negative impact of pharmaceuticals on the natural environment. Inappropriate disposal of pharmaceuticals and emissions from manufacturing sites are thought to be important contributors to this. Our work demonstrates that PyroPure could help reduce the levels of pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams and have big benefits for ecosystem health.

'The system also provides a range of other environmental and economic benefits that could radically change how waste of this nature is collected and destroyed going forward.'

Our work demonstrates that PyroPure could help reduce the levels of pharmaceuticals in rivers and streams and have big benefits for ecosystem health

He added: 'With PyroPure technology, hazardous waste and controlled substances no longer need to be transported across the country to incineration facilities, thus reducing the associated costs, carbon emissions and risks associated with moving waste from its point of origin to its point of disposal.'

Currently in the UK, pharmaceutical waste is only disposed of in large-scale, high-temperature incinerators, which can be up to 200 miles away from where the waste is generated. The Environment Agency has previously indicated that PyroPure, which relies on pyrolysis, a thermochemical decomposition process using high temperatures and an absence of oxygen, followed by catalytic conversion to clean and convert the gases, could be a viable alternative to high-temperature incineration for pharmaceutical waste.

Peter Selkirk, PyroPure’s Executive Chairman, added: 'This is a huge step forward for PyroPure technology and the healthcare sector. For too long now, we have been overly dependent on incineration as the only viable route in which to dispose of hazardous waste. Not only is it expensive but it’s also open to security breaches, particularly when the waste needs to be transported long distances. Now that PyroPure is a proven technology I’m confident that this breakthrough will pave the way for a new approach to waste disposal.'

The trial also revealed how on-site energy recovery during the PyroPure process is at least 75%, compared with 20% for a high-temperature incinerator.

Each PyroPure unit is the size of a chest freezer. The user simply opens the unit’s lid and places the waste within the chamber before initiating the process of pyrolysis to destroy it.