Published on August 31st, 2009 | by Tina Casey


One Atom Away from Clean Water

August 31st, 2009 by  

Breakthrough discovery at Sandia could lead to more affordable way to purify drinking water.A breakthrough discovery from Sandia National Laboratories could help keep a lid on the rising cost of chemical water treatment and make clean drinking water more affordable in “water challenged” areas of the world.  Working with researchers at the University of California, the Sandia team substituted one atom in aluminum oxide, a common chemical used to coagulate impurities in water.  The new compound promises a more sustainable way to decontaminate wastewater as well as purify drinking water.  Next step: Sandia has partnered with the award-winning water technology company Kemira to bring the new compound into commercial production.


Aluminum Oxide and Water Treatment

According to writer Neal Singer of Sandia’s LabNews publication, the Sandia discovery solves one thorny problem in the use of aluminum oxide as a colagulant, its limited shelf life.  The new compound resists aggregation so it can be stored for longer periods of time, preventing waste and easing supply logistics.  Compared to other commercially available products, he new compound also appears to act more effectively in removing contaminants.  It was made by adding a gallium solution to an aluminum solution, effectively adding an atom of gallium to the aluminum oxide clusters.  The resulting compound maintains a more stable electrostatic charge, enabling it to bind contaminants more reliably under changing conditions such as pH, temperature, and turbidity.

Kemira, Aluminum, and Water Treatment

With a 50-year track record in the water treatment industry, Kemira is in a perfect position to commercialize the new aluminum compound.  The company’s latest achievement was its development of a wastewater treatment plant in Germany for aluminum producer NorduAlu, which won a sustainable development prize from the German state Schleswig-Holstein.  The Kemira plant cut treatment costs and reduced NorduAlu’s liquid and solid waste from 3500 tons to 500 tons, while recovering raw materials that can be reused in other processes.

Chemical and Non-Chemical Water Treatment

The Sandia development could help provide some much-needed breathing room for water suppliers, which have been struggling for resources to purchase water treatment chemicals during a period of price and supply instability.  Alongside improvements in the efficiency of chemical processes, the water treatment industry is also rapidly developing non-chemical water treatments including UV disinfection, new high-tech membranes, and ultrasound.

Image: peasap on flickr.com.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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