Water treatment breakthrough, inspired by sea creature

New water treatment method inspired by a sea creature

10:08 AM, 27th November 2018
Illustration of Actinia.
Illustration of Actinia.

NEW HAVEN, US: Inspired by Actinia, a sea organism that ensnares its prey with its tentacles, a team of researchers from Yale University have developed a method for efficiently treating water.

The research, a collaboration of the labs of Yale’s Menachem Elimelech and Huazhang Zhao of Peking University, used a material known as a nanocoagulant to rid water of contaminants. By removing a broad range of contaminants in a single step, the discovery promises to significantly improve on the centuries-old use of coagulants for water treatment.

Actinia is a sea anemone with a spherical body that has tentacles that retract while resting and extend while catching its prey.

The results are published in Nature Nanotechnology.

When added to water, conventional coagulants such as aluminium sulfate and other metallic salts remove larger particles from water by causing them to group together into larger formations and settle. Because these coagulants don’t remove smaller particles dissolved in water, additional treatment methods are necessary. Employing multiple technologies for water treatment, however, is costly, energy-intensive and can require a large amount of land.

Creating an efficient and easy-to-operate technology to remove all contaminants from water is key to addressing global water scarcity.

The research team synthesized a novel, highly stable nanocoagulant different from conventional coagulants in structure, performance and behaviour. In addition to removing suspended particles, this nanocoagulant also removes small dissolved contaminants.

“The behaviour of the nanocoagulant is controlled by its structure,” said Ryan DuChanois, a PhD student in Elimelech’s lab. “Under certain conditions, the nanocoagulant maintains a structure that allows for it to be stored over time.”

“The ability to remove nitrate was quite surprising, as traditional water coagulants exhibit negligible removal of nitrate,” said Elimelech, the Roberto C Goizueta Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering. It’s also critical to water treatment since nitrate contamination is associated with ‘blue-baby’ syndrome, a potentially fatal condition that affects young children in some parts of the world.

Because it’s a one-step process, Huazhang Zhao of Peking University said, the work holds promise for replacing current water treatment methods and greatly reducing the operating costs of water treatment. “It also opens doors for fabricating ‘smart’ materials that can transform configuration and function in response to its environment,” he said.

© Yale University

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