PROTECT Team Awarded Patent for New Water Treatment Process

Nov 30, 2023 | Project 4 (Green Remediation), PROTECT Research, PROTECT Team, PROTECT Trainees

PROTECT Director and Project 4 Leader Akram Alshawabkeh alongside co-inventor and former PROTECT Postdoc Long Chen were awarded a “Robust Flow-Through Platform for Organic Contaminants Removal” patent in September. The patented invention puts forth an electrochemical water treatment process that degrades contaminants in water under steady flow at lower costs without the need for additional chemicals.

Effective water treatments are a necessity in areas where there are high numbers of toxic environmental organic compounds that threaten human health. Unfortunately, many advanced treatments require high capital and chemical costs that make them difficult to implement in developing communities and countries. One affordable treatment that has proven to be effective is the Fenton process, in which hydrogen peroxide is transformed into hydroxyl radicals that break down contaminants. The process can be used to treat a range of contaminants because it can be coupled with other treatment methods and technologies, making it practical to use in multiple systems. The one drawback of the Fenton process is the formation of a toxic ferric sludge byproduct, which is treatable but at a substantial cost.

The patent awarded to Drs. Alshawabkeh and Chen presents a modified Fenton process that bypasses the formation of the toxic sludge. In their process, hydrogen peroxide is added to contaminated water, which then flows through an electrically charged chamber that includes an immobilized iron oxychloride catalyst. This process utilizes the strengths of the Fenton process while addressing the weaknesses. First, the use of an electrically charged chamber means that water can be treated without an acid being added to the system. This simplifies the process, reduces overall costs, and improves long-term use. Second, the presence of the iron oxychloride catalyst in the chamber bypasses ferric sludge formation, which reduces chemical and manpower costs.

By making the addition of acids unnecessary and bypassing sludge formation, this patented process reduces total operational costs by up to 50% compared to traditional Fenton processes. The reduced costs and simplified operational procedures make this process more practical to implement in areas that may not be able to afford the more expensive water treatments. PROTECT Project 4 researchers will build off this patented design as they seek to develop water treatment processes and technologies that can be of use for PROTECT participants.