From papaya to 3D printing: new ideas for purifying water

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  • Innovative ways to purify water that rely on technology and accessible materials are essential given that more than half of the world’s population could suffer from a lack of safe drinking water by 2032.
  • The most effective and efficient way to develop these solutions is to establish public and private partnerships designed to foster and fund innovations.
  • Green Chemistry for Life is developing new ideas for water purification by funding promising young scientists around the world.

Currently, 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed sanitation services . And the problem is getting worse: more than half of the world’s population could suffer from a lack of safe drinking water by 2032, unless urgent action is taken. New and innovative ways to purify water that rely on easily accessible technology and materials present a promising solution.

While large corporations traditionally encourage innovation for the sake of profit, partnerships with global institutions can help promote the development of accessible technologies. Finding ways to prevent the predicted water scarcity will require programs that connect private companies and global institutions to innovate for the benefit of all.

For example, Green Chemistry for Life (GCFL) provides funding to scientists who develop methods of water purification. The GCFL grant program is designed to provide funding to promising young scientists around the world engaged in basic research that adheres to the 12 principles of green chemistry. Organized under the auspices of UNESCO and IUPAC, this program is funded by Russian fertilizer producer PhosAgro on an extra-budgetary basis. The first grants were awarded in 2014, although in some cases the projects selected for funding were launched as early as 2005.

Here are some examples of grants:

1. Papaya waste to purify liquid waste

Papaya peels are naturally absorbent and show promise as an effective method of removing lead from wastewater. Sharifah Rafidah Wan Alwi received a grant from GCFL in 2014 to fund his research into the use of fruit peel (Carica papaya) to obtain activated carbon as a natural and inexpensive way to remove lead from liquid waste. The 30-year-old scientist from Malaysia believes his work will both improve water quality and reduce food waste from food production facilities.

2. Optical sensors with heavy metal ions

Gasser Mohamed Khairy Ali Mostafa, a research group member at the chemistry department of Suez Canal University in Egypt, received a grant for the development of inexpensive optical sensors capable of detecting heavy metal ions in the ‘potable water. The optical sensor consists of a block of membranes containing chromogenic reagents immobilized on a transparent base. The sensors he is developing will help improve public health by preventing the use of water contaminated with toxic heavy metals.

3. 3D printing for the design of gas core reactors

Researcher Natalia Quici designs inexpensive gas-core reactors made using 3D printers that can reduce CO2 emissions by converting them into useful chemicals. Natalia is a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research of the National Atomic Energy Commission in Argentina, and her project also has the potential to be a solution to climate change, as well as a solution to the shortage of energy. potable water. One of Natalia’s goals is to integrate these reactors into water treatment facilities that emit CO2 as a by-product, which would make water purification technology more environmentally friendly through reducing emissions.

4. Recovery of water contaminated with bio-nano catalysts

The ReCoVer project is developed by Enrico Ravera, 29, on the basis of three different chemical concepts. The first is that certain substances can produce active forms of oxygen under sunstroke. The second is that there are enzymes that can use these active forms for the oxidation of organic compounds. The third is that certain proteins can be matrices for substances. The combination of the three concepts allows to create specific chemicals for efficient oxidation of organic compounds. The aim of Enrico’s new technology is to create a functional material for the oxidation of aromatic compounds under exposure. The first practical application is the synthesis of certain fine chemicals without the use of dangerous solvents or without severe conditions for chemical reactions. Ultimately, ReCoVer aims to use the material for wastewater purification.

5. Special price for phosphogypsum purification and protection of drinking water sources

Through the Green Chemistry for Life program, PhosAgro supports research on eliminating potential threats to drinking water. One of the main problems to be solved is the processing of phosphogypsum, a by-product of the production of phosphoric acid used in the manufacture of fertilizers. Phosphogypsum discharges have the potential to contaminate soils as well as surface water and groundwater. To minimize the risk of contamination of drinking water, effective technologies must be introduced to remove toxic substances from phosphogypsum. PhosAgro created a special award for young scientists who develop technological solutions for the purification of phosphogypsum, thereby helping to solve a global problem – the conservation of drinking water sources.

Dr Paltu Kumar of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India received the award for the development of technology using local microorganisms for the bioremediation of phosphogypsum from phosphoric acid factories in India. The technology uses microorganisms to optimize the process of extracting and treating harmful substances from phosphogypsum landfills, preventing them from entering groundwater and drinking water sources.

Water security – both a sustainable supply and clean quality – is essential to ensure healthy communities. Yet our world’s water resources are in jeopardy.

Today, 80% of our wastewater is released into the environment without treatment, while 780 million people still do not have access to an improved water source. By 2030, we could face a 40% global gap between water supply and demand.

The World Economic Forum’s Water Possible platform supports innovative ideas to address the global water challenge.


The Forum supports innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships, including the 2030 Water Resources Group, which is helping close the gap between global water demand and supply by 2030 and has since helped facilitate $ 1 billion in investment. in water.

Other emerging partnerships include the 50L Home Coalition, which aims to address the urban water crisis, addressing both water security and climate change; and the Hand Hygiene for All Mobilization Initiative, formed in response to the gap of 40% of the world’s population without access to handwashing services during COVID-19.

Do you want to join our mission to meet the global water challenge? Learn more in our impact story.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Green Chemistry for Life program

During the eight years of existence of the GCFL, the international jury composed of 13 scientists and scientific leaders from 11 countries examined more than 700 applications submitted by young researchers from 120 countries. Grants were awarded to 41 scientists from 29 countries. Due to multiple disruptions in the work of universities and R&D institutes caused by COVID-19 and public health security measures established in many countries, in 2020 the award ceremonies for the laureates have not been held. place. It has been decided to extend the submission of applications until January 31, 2021. The award ceremony for the most interesting and promising projects submitted in 2020 and 2021 will be held in early 2022.

The pandemic has not only disrupted this particular program, but has reinforced the need for clean water as an essential element of health, food and nutrition security. Access to clean water – and the sanitation needed to control the spread of infections and viruses like COVID-19 – are at the heart of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation. Accelerating the actions necessary to achieve this goal will require innovative technological approaches, and the most effective and efficient way to develop these solutions is through public and private partnerships designed to foster and finance innovations.


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