Breakthrough for clean water in developing countries (Day 283)

Breakthrough for clean water in developing countries (Day 283)

6th March 2015

It's all too easy to take clean water for granted; so many of us in the developed world can simply turn on a tap to get drinkable water – even if we just want to wash the car.

But the reality can be much grimmer in some parts of the world, as I discuss in my blog 'Everyone should have a human right to water'.

More than 70 per cent of illnesses in developing countries worldwide are related to water contamination, with women and children suffering most of all. In India, for instance, nearly 38 million people suffer from water-borne diseases, and up to 1.5 million children die from diarrhoea.

Facts like these make this award-winning breakthrough by chemical engineers from Nigeria and Germany incredibly important.

This particular award recognises the use of chemical engineering technology to support people living on less than $2 a day. And the team did just that by developing a new hybrid clay adsorbent (HYCA), based on kaolinite clay and Carica papaya seeds, which removes heavy metal ion and organic pollutants from water.

Most people would agree that industrial growth is important to create the economic uplift that developing nations urgently need.

But that growth can come at an environmental price due to the heavy metals that are released into local water systems: chromium from steel or photographic plants; lead from paint production and gold mining; cadmium from metal refineries... it's not a pretty list.

Chemical engineering already delivers many ways to purify water. Coagulation, foam flotation, filtration, ion exchange, aerobic and anaerobic treatment, advanced oxidation processes, solvent extraction, electrolysis, microbial reduction, activated sludge and adsorption have all demonstrated some degree of success.

However, most of these are too expensive for most developing countries. Adsorption has emerged as the favourite for widespread application because it is simple, cost-effective, easy to operate and efficient.

The award winning team have really raised the bar with their novel hybrid clay. You can watch them talk about their win here:

Their pilot study, using a Salamander fixed bed reactor, showed that the new material can deliver on multiple fronts. The adsorbent is also highly efficient, able to remove micro-pollutants to levels below World Health Organisation limits.

It's efficiency is not significantly affected by solution pH, which means no chemicals are needed to adjust pH (and potentially add secondary pollution).

This clay is simple to prepare, has an environmentally friendly process, uses low-cost readily-available materials (which include waste – in the form of Carica papaya seeds) and it is easily regenerated so lowers costs for end users. As an added bonus, the clay also has potential for soil remediation.

Not only does this deserving award-winning project satisfy one of the Millennium Development Goals, it also offers hope of a better life to millions of people.

Congratulations to the winning team on such a tremendous achievement!

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