“Clean Technology” to Destroy Water Toxins

Written by on October 10, 2012 in Technology

Scientists are working on creating “clean technology” that will destroy water toxins caused by harmful algal blooms (HABs).

The research team from University of Ulster, led by Dr. Tony Byrne, is based at Ulster’s Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre, where “clean technology” is a primary research theme.

Bloom of cyanobacteria south of Fiji in 2010. Photo credit: NASA.

Bloom of cyanobacteria south of Fiji in 2010. Photo credit: NASA.

Clean Technology is a term used to describe knowledge-based products or services that improve operational performance, productivity or efficiency, while reducing costs, inputs, energy consumption, waste or pollution,” explained Byrne.

He said that HABs are increasing, posing a threat not only to wildlife, but to humans as well.  They threaten beaches, drinking water supply and water-based activities like boating and fishing.  According to NOAA, HABs are increasing along the coastlines and surface waters of the United States.

Algal blooms occur naturally, but only some are harmful to aquatic life and humans.  An increase in certain limiting nutrients in water (usually due to pollution) will increase the possibility of HABs.

“Blooms containing cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, can pose a serious threat, as these micro-organisms can produce and release a variety of cyanotoxins,” said Byrne.

The process by which Byrnes and colleagues hope to destroy water toxins is called photocatalysis.  It involves using titanium dioxide and natural sunlight.

“Titanium dioxide is a white powder which is used in sunblock, paint, cosmetics and even some food products (E171),” said Byrnes.  It is used in sunblock because of its ability to reflect light away from skin, and deter the absorption of UV rays.

“It is a non-toxic pigment but when excited by ultra violet light (UV), it becomes a powerful catalyst capable of destroying pollutants in water.”

Byrnes concluded that they have made this technique work successfully in lab settings, but need to understand more about the mechanism by which it works before going further.

Researcher Jeremy Hamilton in the labs at Ulster's Jordanstown campus.  Photo courtesy of University of Ulster.

Researcher Jeremy Hamilton in the labs at Ulster’s Jordanstown campus. Photo courtesy of University of Ulster.

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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