Going the extra litre (Day 182)

Going the extra litre (Day 182)

25th November 2014

In today's blog we are heading towards Puerto Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico, which is a small town with a population of around 5,000 people located just south of the US border near Columbus, New Mexico.

It's a part of the world that has an average annual rainfall in the region of 361 mm (14.21 inches). In comparison, parts of the UK has more than ten times this level (4,577 mm or 180.2 inches).

On the US side, the water is treated using a reverse osmosis system to provide all residents with clean water.

On the Mexican side, the water supply is only disinfected with chlorine. The levels of arsenic and fluoride contaminating the water supply is toxic to the people who drink it over a long period of time.

To help, one young chemical engineer called Joshua Gomez from New Mexico State University has developed a combination of activated alumina and activated carbon to create a filter that reduces the amount of arsenic and fluoride levels in the water.

Joshua Gomez' Water Filter

Joshua says: “These filters are implemented under the sink in households and schools. People who ask for it – and those are the people who really need it – are given the filters.”

But is not just the technical skills that Joshua is contributing to improve quality of life in Mexico. He is also sharing his knowledge.

Joshua teaching residents about water safety.

Joshua has travelled several times to teach how to build and install the filters to educate residents and officials about water quality, health risks and how the filters will improve the water.

He hopes that 30 to 100 more filters can be installed in Palomas.

Joshua's talents don't end there.

He is being funded by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to perform a research project to develop and optimise algae derived activated charcoal as an adsorbent to be applied in the space Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS).

The activated charcoal will be tested with hygiene and urine waste that are commonly found in space missions.  The organic matters that are commonly found in waste that will be tested are resorcinol, urea, ammonia, and acetic acid, which will be used to evaluate the adsorption performance of the activated charcoal.

To optimise the algal activated charcoal different strains of algae, activating agents, and activating agent to algae ratios will be studied to find which combination will produce a surface area and pore size that will be ideal in its specified purpose in the ECLSS.

Also, the carbon from Calgon that is currently being used in NASA missions will be tested the same way to compare adsorbent qualities.

The different adsorbents will then be tested for absorbency by doing shaker experiments using an automatic shaker with solutions of resorcinol, urea, ammonia, and acetic acid and shaking the adsorbents in solution until equilibrium is reached.

These results will present the adsorption capacity of each adsorbent used which will show the adsorbent that is ideal. Then human urine will be used with the ideal adsorbent along with Calgon carbon to verify the performance of the adsorbents.

I may be biased, but I believe the chemical engineering profession is blessed with some fantastic people who contribute so much on a technical and human level. Congratulations to Joshua on his achievements, especially his personal efforts to put something back into to society.