Imperial College London

Professor Nick Voulvoulis

Faculty of Natural SciencesCentre for Environmental Policy

Professor of Environmental Technology



+44 (0)20 7594 7459n.voulvoulis Website




103Weeks BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Risearch Overview

-  Natural Resources Fragility Project for UN FAO:

Development of a tool for the mapping of natural resources-driven fragility, the global fragility based on integrating the availability of natural resources with future technological and environmental issues.The mapping tool is planned for the definition and visual assessment of natural “resources-diven fragility”, to guide decisions over geographical and thematic areas of intervention.Assessing a state’s natural resources-driven fragility can offer the evidence to guide decisions over geographical and thematic areas of policies and international instruments that foster sustainable development and address climate change and environmental degradation, including relevant Sustainable Development Goals.

-      Defining the AMR Burden of Antimicrobial Manufacturing Waste in Puducherry and Chennai: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an important concern for public health authorities at global level. While for a long time global focus was on the use and misuse of antibiotics in the human and animal health sectors as the cause of many pathogenic bacteria becoming resistant to a variety of antibiotics, in recent years the role of waste from pharmaceutical production facilities has been recognised as a significant driver of AMR. With around 80 to 90% of the world’s antibiotics produced in factories in India and China, the project investigates the link between levels of antimicrobials in manufacturing discharges and the proliferation of AMR in receiving environments, studying two regions in India as case studies: Puducherry and Chennai.It is a collaborative project between Imperial College and four research organisations from India including Pondicherry University and the Indian Institute of Technology. 

Pondicherry University Vice Chancellor Gurmeet Singh and experts from Imperial College, London, releasing a souvenir at the conference on Antimicrobial Resistance hosted recently by the Department of Microbiology.Pondicherry University Vice Chancellor Gurmeet Singh and experts from Imperial College, London, releasing a souvenir at the conference on Antimicrobial Resistance hosted recently by the Department of Microbiology.AMRWatch event

- A Novel Framework for Predicting Emerging Chemical Stressor Impacts in Complex EcosystemsFreshwater ecosystems are under an increasing array of threats, both in the UK and worldwide, especially from a wide range of new and emerging chemical stressors (e.g. novel antibiotics and pesticides). Freshwater biosciences and applied ecology are under-equipped for dealing with these new threats: the evidence base is lacking, there is often little or no mechanistic understanding, or predictive capacity for anticipating how these novel chemicals will operate in the real world. This project will address all these shortcomings by taken a radically different approach from the classical biomonitoring and ecotoxicology tools that have dominated for many decades. This will involve the development of indicators of both proximate pollution, as the chemical first enters the biological system (commonly as a new food source for microbes), and also of its indirect effects as its impact propagates through the food web. This will provide a completely new paradigm in chemical stressor monitoring, based on using first principles to derive a novel means of predicting "ecological surprises" that commonly arise due to the inadequacies of our current simplistic approaches when dealing with the true biocomplexity of natural systems. Our scope is for our approach to serve as a diagnostic tool for management, with research findings, for example, supporting the selection of mitigation options that deliver reduction of ecological effects. This paradigm shift will allow far more robust predictions and therefore more informed management decisions about the freshwaters of the future. 

 -       EU Globaqua: PI for the UK contribution (Imperial) to this €10 million multidisciplinary 5 year research programme on the effects of multiple stressors on aquatic ecosystems under water scarcity funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme. The ultimate goal of GLOBAQUA is to explore how to adapt management and policies to minimise the ecological, economical and societal consequences of water scarcity and ongoing global change. Scientific results from the project will be integrated with the demands of policymakers and national/EU environmental agencies to fill the communication gap in the Science–Policy Interface. Central to this,  is Work-Package 12 (Policy) led by Dr Voulvoulis, who is also in charge of the the Anglian region case study. The Broadland Rivers catchment in East Anglia forms one of the six selected basins affected by water scarcity (due to either climatic or societal factors) studied under the GLOBAQUA project.

Globaqua partners

-       Multimodal characterisation of nanomaterials in the environment: A NERC funded project in collaboration with the Department of Materials (Imperial College) and Bristol University, improving our understanding of the bioavailability, lifetime and expected evolution of ENMs, and how they partition between media along their intended life cycle.

Anglian Water Partnership

-       Anglian Water Research Programme: Prof Steve Kaye (Head of Innovation, Anglian Water) and Dr Nick Voulvoulis, with the support of Professor Nigel Graham, have been coordinating this for over a decade.  Projects have ranged from investigating emerging contaminants and assessing potential risks to helping Anglian Water understand expected impacts of climate change and how to best adapt to these. Through time Anglian has sponsored a research fellowship, supported many PhD students, MSc projects and our two year placement programme as well as of course helped Imperial educate our future leaders in the field by supporting our postgraduate teaching curriculum.

-       Veolia Resources Management Research Programme: PI for this successful continuing research programme investigating opportunities for waste minimisation, recycling and reuse, as well as the possibility of creating not necessarily less but better waste. Alongside this, current policy is examined in order to highlight how it can be adapted to better serve environmental, social and commercial needs.

Research Topic: Environmental Quality

More recent work has expanded these themes and has centred on developing the concepts and conflicting demands of the water-energy-food nexus, where each is inextricably bound to the others, providing escalating environmental, social and financial challenges such that only a major shift of mindset and an investment in interdisciplinary modes of action will have any chance to resolve the problems. In this context, and linking back to earlier research, is the investigation of the benefits of “closing the loop” with direct reuse of treated wastewater effluent either directly (groundwater recharge/drinking water input) or via agriculture (irrigation) or energy generation (cooling water). A further development from this is a fuller exploration of chemicals in the hydrological cycle so that not only water but also chemicals such as phosphorous, heavy metals or precious metals may be recovered from wastewater treatment and sludge processes, “closing the loop” in a different way and turning waste from a burden into a resource.

Research on environmental quality focuses on the integrated scientific study of contaminants in the aquatic environment, soils, sediments and air, and implications for risk assessment, management and policy. These areas of research are complemented by the development of skills in environmental modelling, sustainability analysis, life cycle assessment and economic evaluation.

Policy Brief



brief20150circularinfraCigarette smoking: an assessment of tobacco’s global environmental footprint across its entire supply chain, andpolicy strategies to reduce circReturn to OPAL Soil Centre Home Page

 The OPAL National Soil Centre is one of five national centres of expertise under the OPAL  project. The centre is based at the Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London under the direction of Dr Voulvoulis.. The OPAL Soil and Earthworm Survey, is open to everyone. The survey aims to build a picture of soil quality and earthworm populations all over England. 

Appointments to major roles

Professor Voulvoulis is the Associate Editor for Environmental Management, an international peer reviewed journal published by Springer that covers the use and conservation of natural resources, the protection of habitats and the control of hazards.

He is a Member of Scientific Advisory Committee to Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI). The QEERI national research institute is tasked with supporting Qatar in addressing its grand challenges related to energy, water, and environment and is viewed to be unique within the Middle East, seeking: Research and Innovation Excellence, Real World Impact, Collaboration of Experts, State-of-the-Art Facilities, and Capacity Building. The remit of the SAC is to provide scientific and strategic advice to the Executive Director of QEERI, focusing on achieving the mission and strategic objectives of the Institute. The ultimate goal is to: maximize the quality and impact of research investments; to ensure alignment with the Qatar National Research Strategy (Research, Development and Innovation Strategy, 2030 (QRDI 2030)), also the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Strategy of which QEERI is a part; to deliver maximum benefit to Qatar; and to enhance the reputation of the research entity as a leading scientific institution.

He is also on the Editorial Board for AIMS Environmental Science and for Environmental Nanotechnology, Management  and Science. He was recently the editor of the special issue of AIMS ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: Pollution and Chemicals in the Environment.

Significant activities/achievements  

  • Review of UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) evidence to assess scope for business-related ecosystem market opportunities in the UK and tools for business sector uptake’ was commissioned for the Ecosystem Markets Task Force by the Valuing Nature Network and was partially funded by NERC and Defra. Dr Voulvoulis worked with a team of experts to provide a comprehensive overview of various types of opportunities for UK business that value ecosystem services.
  • On behalf of the Defra/NERC Water Security KE Programme and in collaboration with the Environment Agency , Dr Nick Voulvoulis has been coordinating research on how we can better communicate Water Framework Directive (WFD) outcomes/environmental improvements in terms of Ecosystem Services. This work aimed to review the methodological linkages between the Ecosystem Services Approach (ESA) and the WFD and to assess the potential “added value” of using the ESA methodology in the WFD decision-making process. See: paper published.
  • Part of a contract that RGL Forensics was awarded by the European Commission for the ‘Ex post evaluation of cohesion policy interventions 2000 – 2006 financed by the Cohesion Fund (including former ISPA)’, Dr Voulvoulis was in charge of the evaluation of over 1000 environmental projects that were co-financed by the ISPA or Cohesion Fund in the fields of water quality and management and waste collection and treatment.The contribution of the Cohesion Fund and ISPA to the European environmental acquis, was calculated as the extent to which projects funded reduced the needs of each country in order to comply with European environmental legislation in three sectors (drinking water, wastewater and solid waste). One of the conclusions of the study was that it is more sustainable to aim to reduce the needs for water and waste infrastructure (e.g. water use and wastewater reuse potentials provide great opportunities for reducing MSs needs) by other means before directing investments to do so. There is also a need for a more integrated/holistic thinking in this respect. The report also showed some interesting statistics, e.g. significant differences in terms of water supply needs (highest public water supply (Latvia) amounts to 124 ㎥/yr /capita which is 2.7 times of the lowest (Poland)) and waste generation (the highest waste generation (680 kg/yr/capita) of Cyprus is 2.7 times of the lowest (Slovakia)) among various MSs. 
  • Three case studies of Dr Voulvoulis’ research that demonstrate the benefits for industry have been selected by the the Water Security Knowledge Exchange Portal that brings together the outputs of the Water Security Knowledge Exchange Programme - a long-term initiative that was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The portal supports the objectives of the UK Water Research and Innovation Partnership. These are:
  • Removing endocrine disrupting chemicals and pharmaceuticals during wastewater treatment
  • Reducing risks from emerging contaminants in water
  • The need for a systems approach to water management.
  • 'Implementation of E.U. Water Framework Directive: source assessment of metallic substances at catchment levels'  published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring, was selected for inclusion in Science for Environment Policy , the European Commission's environmental news service for policy makers.
  • OPAL National Soil and Earthworm survey was included as an example of a science based education programme and data collection method in The European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity launched by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC)  in September 2010 as part of the International Year of Biodiversity.