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. 

- 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.

-       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. 


Major talks

  • Green Sky Thinking (April 2016) presentation to inform the newly elected Mayor on sustainability in London, hosted by the Temple Group (one of the UK’s leading independent infrastructure and property consultancies, specialising in environment, planning and sustainability).
  • Royal Society of Chemistry's Marketing Group Annual Lecture (March 2016): Pollutants, Human Health and the Environment: a Risk Based Approach.
  • Various talks as Leading Author of the Circular Revolution report on the contribution to the UK GDP by a transition to a circular economy commissioned by Veolia (June 2015).
  • NICOLE Network Spring Meeting & Workshop  (June 2015) Invited  speaker at the NICOLE Network Spring Meeting & Workshopon Unconventional contaminants  Manchester UK, 24-­â€26 June 2015 .
  • EU JRC Science | Business Network debate on Scientific evidence in policymaking (May 2015) as featured speaker.
  • House of Commons (July 2014): presentation of key findings of Waste Infrastructure Requirements in England report. Following this, invitation by ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport) to present at the ADEPT waste panel meeting on ‘Waste infrastructure requirements for England’ (a report commissioned by Veolia Environmental Services) (November 2014).
  • International Environmental Health in Boston, MA, USA (March 2013):  Science and Policy to Protect Future Generations conference presentation on ‘The water, energy, food nexus as the basis for decision making to protect future generations and environmental health’.
  • Sustainable Industry Forum 2013 in Brussels: Treating Waste as a Resource, hosted by the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry in Brussels - event’s ‘scene-setting talk’ presenting on a new approach to waste: rethinking resource efficiency from the perspective of waste as a value added for industry.
  • European Commission, Information Society and Media DG in Brussels, (October 2011) – presenting key findings of Ex Post Evaluation of Cohesion Policy Interventions 2000-2006 Financed by the Cohesion Fund (including former ISPA).
  • Environmental Health Resetting our Priorities Conference in Salvador, Brazil (February 2011) plenary presentation on ‘Low concentrations of chemicals in the environment - Of concern to justify action?’.
  • IGES Conference (International Geochemical Exploration Symposium) (University College Dublin, August 2003) organised by the Association of Exploration Geochemists, co-author of invited plenary paper.
  • ISEG 2003 Conference (6th International Symposium on Environmental Geochemistry) (University of Edinburgh, September 2003), co-author of invited plenary paper. 

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.

Appointments to major roles

Dr 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 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.

  • Member of the Editorial Board of AIMS Environmental Science journal, AIMS Press (July 2014-present)
  • AIMS Environmental Science journal, Special issue on "Pollution & Chemicals in the Environment"  Editor (July 2014-April 2016)
  • Member of the Editorial Board of the Journal Environmental Nanotechnology, Monitoring and Management, Elsevier.
  • Member of the Editorial Advisory Panel of the Proceedings of ICE journal Waste and Resource Management, ICE Publishing (until October 2014).
  • Member of the editorial board of Scientific World Journal, Hindawi Publishing Corporation (until May 2014).
  • Guest Editor of the Special Theme Issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, ), Royal Society Publishing (Vol 367 wastewater (2009), pp 3873-4137) on emerging chemical contaminants in water (2009).

 Other major appointments or significant activities  

  • Scientific advisor for the EU project ENDETECH, an important trans-European research project developing a technology for eliminating persistent pharmaceutical pollutants in wastewaters (2013-15).
  • Member of the Steering group of the CIWEM Global Contaminated Land Network (CLN). The function of the Network is to provide expert views for the Institution and to be a sounding board for current and new initiatives. 
  • 5th International Conference on Environmental Management, Engineering, Planning and Economics (CEMEPE) and the SECOTOX Conference in Mykonos, Greece Invited speaker: The case of the circular economy from a water- energy- food nexus perspective (June 2015)
  • SYMBIOSIS Conference in Athens, Greece (June 2014): Scientific Committee Member and keynote speaker on ‘Understanding systems and their complex interrelationships: a prerequisite to solving environmental problems’.
  • A member of the Scientific Committee of the International Conference “Industrial waste and wastewater treatment and valorization”, and speaker on Mining in the context of sustainable management of natural capital: the importance of waste recycling and reuse, Athens (May 2015).
  • Presented on Pharmaceuticals in the Aquatic Environment: The Need for Catchment Management at the 10th Annual International Symposium on Environment, orgainsed by the  Athens Institute for Education and Research in Athens, Greece (May 2015).
  • Presented in the Soil Health and Management Workshop within the Sainsbury's Farming Scholars Programme on the topic of Soil Quality Assessment: the role of public participation in data collection (April 2015).
  • Presented at the 5th International Symposium on Energy from Biomass and Waste organized by the International Waste Working Group (IWWG) on ‘Anaerobic digestion in the nexus of energy, water and food security’, Venice (November 2014).
  • University Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC), Paris (November 2011) - lecture on Water and Sanitation Provision and a Low Carbon Economy to students of the Master of Science of the Universe, Environment and Ecology (SDUEE).
  • A keynote speaker at the Endetech-Globaqua-Scarce-Cytothreat conference, on ‘The need for catchment management of pharmaceuticals: the role of Sewage Treatment’ in Barcelona, Spain (1-4 December 2014).  
  • Presented at CIWEM's Annual Conference on Water & Environment, addressing the need to recycle water, how sustainable water use will mean drinking treated effluent (April 2011).
  • CIWEM conference entitled Developing Sustainably:  Drivers, Techniques and Case Studies, and presented a joint paper with Mouchel, ‘Turning Sustainability from an Art to a Science’ (November 2008).
  • Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM) Research Workshop (2006), limited to approximately 15 international participants (top international environmental chemists and biologists), with the theme Novel Types of Contaminants in Coastal Waters and co-authored a report published by the Commission.
  • Research fellowship in 2005 by the National Natural Science Foundation of China to collaborate with Beijing Normal University (Professor Xinghui Xia). 

In the media