Scientists say that a combination of electricity and nanotechnology could offer a cheap solution for treating polluted water. Patented technology emanating from the research of Prof Leslie Petrik at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and colleagues at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University has moved the field ahead with a nanobased approach.
The big challenge for wastewater and water treatment is persistent organic contaminants from textile, paper, leather and plastics industries. The discharge of these pollutants into water and their impacts on aquatic ecosystems are well known. Water contaminated by certain microbes may make humans more susceptible or vulnerable to water borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid fever. The problem particularly concerns children.
The use of electrical discharge, also called Electrohydraulic Discharge (EHD), system for decomposing organics and microbes has attracted attention globally. This is due to a combination of features including its efficiency, high speed, and energy saving capability. It also requires less chemicals and is reportedly non-destructive. Electrical discharge at carefully positioned electrodes produces active chemical species such as ozone, hydrogen peroxide, singlet oxygen, superoxide radicals, hydroxyl radicals and other active species.
The combination of these reactive species degrades both biological and chemical pollutants rapidly and efficiently. The Environmental and Nano Science (ENS) research group at UWC led by Prof Leslie Petrik has uncovered ways to harness this technology, making it more efficient and accessible to upscaling it to an industrial level.
Prof Petrik’s research has shown that utilising titanium based catalysts electrospun into nanofibres enhances the production of reactive oxygen species in their prototype technology.
By Emile Massima, University of the Western Cape