Project Title: Nanomaterial-enhanced biopolymers for low-cost water treatment (NanoBioPolymers)
Host Organisation: University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Metal contamination of water resources presents a significant challenge to many nations in Africa, and the developing world. From Ghana and Nigeria in the west, to Kenya and the DRC in the East, to South Africa, and Zambia in the South, many low-income communities drink water contaminated by toxic levels of elements including mercury and arsenic. This has significant implications not just for the health and livelihoods of these populations. The work proposed here is driven by the need to increase access to safe drinking water for these communities.
Nanotechnology is the manipulation of materials at the nanometre scale (1-100 nm). It holds hope for novel water treatment technologies because materials at this scale exhibit properties extremely useful in water treatment. Some nano-enabled water treatment devices exist in the market. However, their costs are prohibitive, making them out of reach for consumers who need them most. Secondly, the synthetic polymers used to immobilise nanomaterials to prevent their loss to the water, are neither recyclable nor degradable, resulting in secondary pollution.
This project aims to create novel materials that are low-cost and therefore affordable to marginalised communities, as well as environmentally-friendly. By combining nanomaterials with polymers derived from waste materials, we aim to increase access to clean water by decreasing the cost of treatment. The materials will also be strategically designed to address both microbial and metal contaminants, and to be applied for both water treatment and pollutant sensing.