Removing toxic chemicals from water — New environmentally-friendly method

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Credit: IMPACT/Swansea University

Researchers from Swansea University have developed a new environmentally friendly method for removing toxic chemicals from water.

A newly invented machine, called the Matrix Assembly Cluster Source (MACS), has been used to design a breakthrough water treatment method using a solvent-free approach.

The research, from The Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT) within the College of Engineering at Swansea University, was funded by the EPSRC and led by Professor Richard Palmer.

Professor Richard Palmer explains:

“The harmful organic molecules are destroyed by a powerful oxidising agent, ozone, which is boosted by a catalyst. Usually such catalysts are manufactured by chemical methods using solvents, which creates another problem – how to deal with the effluents from the manufacturing process?

The Swansea innovation is a newly invented machine that manufactures the catalyst by physical methods, involving no solvent, and therefore no effluent. The new technique is a step change in the approach to water treatment and other catalytic processes.”

Professor Palmer continues:

“Our new approach to making catalysts for water treatments uses a physical process which is vacuum-based and solvent free method. The catalyst particles are clusters of silver atoms, made with the newly invented MACS machine.

It solves the long-standing problem of low cluster production rate – meaning, for the first time, it is now possible to produce enough clusters for study at the test-tube level, with the potential to then scale-up further to the level of small batch manufacturing and beyond.”

The clusters are approximately 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and have been of significant interest to researchers because of their unique properties. However, due to the inadequate rate of cluster production, research in this area has been limited.

The new MACS method has changed this – it scales up the intensity of the cluster beam to produce enough grams of cluster powder for practical testing. The addition of ozone to the powder then destroys pollutant chemicals from water, in this case nitrophenol.

On the future potential of this breakthrough technology, Professor Palmer summarises:

“The MACS approach to the nanoscale design of functional materials opens up completely new horizons across a wide range of disciplines – from physics and chemistry to biology and engineering. Thus, it has the power to enable radical advances in advanced technology – catalysts, biosensors, materials for renewable energy generation and storage.

It seems highly appropriate that the first practical demonstration of Swansea’s environmentally friendly manufacturing process concerns something we are all concerned about – clean water!”

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The research team includes Dr Chedly Tizaoui at Swansea, collaborating with Profs Nikos Dimitratos and Stefania Albonetti in Bologna, Italy.

The IMPACT operation is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and Swansea University.

The research was published in Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Notes to editors:

The Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT) is a state-of-the-art engineering research institute specialising in fundamental and applied research and innovation in advanced engineering, modelling and materials. The operation has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and Swansea University.

As a Centre of Excellence, IMPACT supports the regional, the UK and global engineering economy with collaborative, fundamental and applied research. The Engineering North building, home to IMPACT, is based at Swansea University Bay Campus and forms part of the College of Engineering – offering a unique colocation facility for academia-industry partnerships within a transformative research environment.

Completed in May 2019, the building comprises of two distinct areas – linked by the central, light filled atrium: a research office building and a laboratory block: with 1,600m2 open plan laboratory space. Together they house 80 single occupancy offices, provide hub space for over 150 researchers and colocation space for 50 industrial and academic collaborators. Externally, the north entrance features a large living wall of plants and flowers, approximately 114m2 square, promoting biodiversity, and providing year-round texture and colour.

The ethos of IMPACT is to foster academia-industry partnerships, promoting cross-disciplinary fertilisation of ideas in the pursuit of new pioneering science and technology. This will be achieved by bringing together first-class expertise from the College, attracting leading talent and partnering with the World’s innovative companies and regional partners.

Designed to BREEAM* excellent standards, it will provide future proof highly specialised laboratories with a dynamic environment for collaboration of industry and academia. This unique operation aims to attract world leading expertise and significant research funding.

*BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure and buildings. It recognises and reflects the value in higher performing assets across the built environment lifecycle, from new construction to in-use and refurbishment.

http://www.swansea.ac.uk/engineering/impact/
@SU_engIMPACT

Swansea University is a world-class, research-led, dual campus university offering a first-class student experience and has one of the best employability rates of graduates in the UK. The University has the highest possible rating for teaching – the Gold rating in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in 2018 and was commended for its high proportions of students achieving consistently outstanding outcomes.

Swansea climbed 14 places to 31st in the Guardian University Guide 2019, making us Wales’ top ranked university, with one of the best success rates of graduates gaining employment in the UK and the same overall satisfaction level as the Number 1 ranked university.

The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 results saw Swansea make the ‘biggest leap among research-intensive institutions’ in the UK (Times Higher Education, December 2014) and achieved its ambition to be a top 30 research University, soaring up the league table to 26th in the UK.

The University is in the top 300 best universities in the world, ranked in the 251-300 group in The Times Higher Education World University rankings 2018. Swansea University now has 23 main partners, awarding joint degrees and post-graduate qualifications.

The University was established in 1920 and was the first campus university in the UK. It currently offers around 350 undergraduate courses and 350 postgraduate courses to circa 20,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. The University has ambitious expansion plans as it moves towards its centenary in 2020 and aims to continue to extend its global reach and realise its domestic and international potential.

Swansea University is a registered charity. No.1138342. Visit http://www.swansea.ac.uk

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