No solvent, no effluent: a new approach to water treatment

Tuesday, 14 July, 2020


A team of engineers from Swansea University’s Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT) has invented a machine — the Matrix Assembly Cluster Source (MACS) — that allows water to be treated without the need for solvents.

Research lead Professor Richard Palmer explained that removing toxic chemicals from water involves the destruction of harmful organic molecules by the oxidising agent, ozone, which is boosted by a catalyst. Usually catalysts are manufactured by chemical methods using solvents, which creates the problem of effluents.

“The Swansea innovation is a newly invented machine that manufactures the catalyst by physical methods, involving no solvent, and therefore no effluent,” Professor Palmer said.

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

Professor Palmer explained that the machine solves the longstanding problem of low cluster production rate, making it possible to produce enough clusters to study at the test-tube level, with the potential to scale up to 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 MACS method 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.

“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,” Professor Palmer said.

The research is published in Applied Materials and Interfaces.

Image caption: The Matrix Assembly Cluster Source water treatment machine.

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