Minimising environmental odours with UNSW Odour Lab
The UNSW Odour Laboratory is the most advanced lab in Australia for emissions analysis. The Odour Laboratory is made up of five researchers: Dr Ademir Abdalla Prata Junior, Dr Ruth Fisher, Dr James Hayes, Minh Nhat Le and Professor Richard Stuetz; along with two Higher Degree Research (HDR) students.
The Odour Laboratory focuses on characterising complex emissions from industrial and commercial sources and developing analytical and assessment techniques that use a range of advanced chemical and sensorial methods. In essence, the lab explores why something smells the way it does, why some odours linger more than others and how odours can be minimised or better managed.
Dr Ruth Fisher has been focusing on the production and emission of complex odours from biosolids at wastewater treatment plants. She is working to improve the sustainability and performance of waste management systems, such as wastewater treatment, and she says that it is important that we understand these odours by knowing where they are being formed and transmitted, what their compounds are and how we detect and recept them.
Dr Fisher says that the odours that are produced by wastewater treatment plants are from biosolids.
“Biosolids are the solids remaining after the wastewater treatment process. They’re pretty smelly, but they have lower microbial activity and after processing aren’t hazardous,” Dr Fisher said.
“Biosolids are a really good source of organic matter and nutrients. So, in Australia we apply a lot of biosolids to land.
“Our research aims to understand what the smells are, how they're formed, how we can vary the process to make them less smelly and how we can best communicate with communities who live near these treatment plants.”
Ruth says the key to minimising odour is knowing what stage of the transmission process you are targeting. The four main stages include formation, during which you can prevent an odour from being formed; control and removal, where you can take action such as closing doors when odorous products are being unloaded and using specific processes to remove odours; dilution or transmission, where odours are filtered using specific processes or distanced from communities; and control, where you use strategies to trick your sense of smell.
An important consideration across the work of the Odour Laboratory is that everyone perceives odours slightly differently. While some are highly sensitive to odours, others lack particular receptors that result in partial or full loss of smell. This makes effective communication with local communities crucial when exploring environmental odour reduction strategies.
For more on Dr Fisher’s work: