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Manchester makes contribution to improving global health

A University of Manchester researcher has won a prestigious award for an innovation that could help deliver pollution-free water to people around the world.

Dr Nigel W Brown, who lives in Alsager, has been given the Award for Innovation by the Royal Society of Chemistry Process Technology Group, in recognition of five years of research into a system called Aquacart that removes toxic organic contaminants from waste water.

Harmful compounds can be removed from sewage and waste water by a process called ‘activated carbon adsorption’ – a technique used in kitchen water filters.

On an industrial scale the carbon used is regenerated at high temperature, which is a complex and costly business.

Dr Brown’s Aquacart system makes use of a new material called Nyex, developed in conjunction with Nykin Development of Betley. This has a high electrical conductivity allowing fast, effective and cheap electrochemical regeneration, which allows the material to be used again.

Using this technology, it appears that pollutants are completely destroyed, leaving no residue.

The award from the RSC – sponsored by AstraZeneca, British Nuclear Group, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Syngenta – recognises the practical application of Dr Brown’s innovative cleaning process, which is housed in a special unit.

For the first time, this unit allows simultaneous and continuous adsorption and regeneration to take place. It has a simple design, no moving parts and low costs – and its success has led to two patent applications.

The development of Aquacart is happening at a time when industry is coming under increasing pressure from the public and the authorities to reduce the level of toxic organic contaminants being discharged. Some of these are known to affect the hormone systems of animals and cause the feminisation of fish.

Research indicates that the Aquacart system has the potential to meet the challenges of new and proposed legislation. It’s also believed the system will be applicable not just for the treatment of sewage but also for processes like effluent polishing, groundwater treatment, colour removal, the recycling of process water and potable water treatment involving the removal of pesticides.

“The supply of safe water to the world’s people, animals and plants will be an over-riding concern of the 21st century,” said Dr Brown. “This means reducing pollution and ensuring, in an affordable manner, a sufficient supply of uncontaminated water.

“In contributing to solving this world-wide problem, the University has registered a notable achievement and added a new process to available techniques. I hope this will make a small, yet significant, contribution to a healthier world.”

Aquacart’s development has been possible thanks to grants of £195,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through its Water Infrastructure and Treatment programme, with follow-on-funding of £56,000.

Further financial assistance has been provided by the University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP), which is helping Dr Brown explore Aquacart’s commercial potential.

Dr Brown, a former research student of Dr Ted Roberts in the University’s School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, has had wide experience of industry, and is staunchly committed to university-industry collaboration.

He and the research team are now aiming to obtain further funding to build a pilot system capable of processing larger volumes of water. This is likely to be a collaborative project involving two water companies over an 18-month period.

Jon Keighren | alfa
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