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New nanoporous metal foam uses sunlight to clean water

A researcher from the University of Bath is working on a means of safely removing micropollutants from water without increasing carbon footprint by using sunlight.

Professor Davide Mattia from the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering has been awarded a five-year EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Established Career Fellowship in Water Engineering to develop photocatalytic nanoporous anodic metal foams – a sponge-like substance – that will use sunlight to safely remove micropollutants from water.

Micropollutants – found in toxic chemicals such as drugs, hormones and pesticides – represent one of the biggest public health and environmental challenges in the UK as well as other countries.

Present in wastewater at very low concentrations, micropollutants slowly accumulate in the soil and in ground water, upsetting the ecological balance and eventually finding their way into the human food supply chain, with a potential to cause severe adverse long-term health effects. 

Existing technology comprising the majority of water treatment plants in the UK and abroad is not capable of removing micropollutants, requiring large capital investment by the water industry to meet impending legislation requiring their removal. As such, there is an urgent need for efficient, effective and low-carbon technologies capable of safely removing these micropollutants from the water.

Photocatalysis, where light is used to speed up a reaction that breaks down organic pollutants to non-harmful constituents, is one potential solution.

Given the very large volumes of water that need to be treated and the low concentration of micropollutants, very large amounts of nano-sized photocatalyst particles are required, creating a risk of these nanoparticles leaking from the water treatment plant and accumulating in the environment, also with potentially adverse effects.

Professor Mattia’s team is developing technology that entirely forgoes the use of nanoparticles, replacing them with a highly porous photocatalytic foam, thereby creating an efficient method of capturing all the micropollutants while preventing nanoparticulate material leaching into the environment.

Mattia, Professor of Chemical Engineering in the University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, Centre for Advanced Separations Engineering (CASE) and Water Innovation & Research Centre (WIRC @ Bath), said: “I will be working with academic and industrial partners to retrofit existing water treatment plants to accommodate this new technology. We hope this will result in a more effective way of removing micropollutants in water without increasing carbon emissions or producing toxic by-products.

“I am very excited at having the opportunity to address the grand challenge of micropollutant removal and am grateful to the EPSRC for their support.

“I believe our anodic metal foams represent an innovative and practical solution that water companies will be able to integrate in their existing infrastructure without radical changes, thereby low the barriers to their adoption.”

Professor Jan Hofman, Director of the WIRC @ Bath, added: “It is fantastic that Professor Mattia gets this opportunity for this exciting research for developing fundamentally new technology for organic micropollutant removal.

“Removal of these compounds from drinking water and wastewater is extremely important for public health and aquatic life. The water sector has great need for innovations in this field, which Professor Mattia’s research can provide.”

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Innovation , Treatment
Tags: wastewater treatment


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