What if there was a way to purify contaminated water in developing countries with a cost-effective method that’s both resourceful and effective? What if there was a way to provide clean drinking water to every thirsty mouth on the planet? Well thanks to breakthrough research from Mr. Ramakrishna Mallampati, a PhD candidate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), we’re one step closer to achieving just that.
Mr. Ramakrishna, working under the guidance of Associate Professor Suresh Valiyaveettil in the Faculty of Science, discovered he was able to purify water using simple household scraps: the peels of apples and tomatoes.
This simple yet brilliant water purification method is the first of its kind. The findings are published in the American Chemical Society Journal.
Clean Water Conundrum
A shortage of water – let alone clean drinking water – is only predicted to get worse, with estimates that by 2050 there will simply not be enough fresh water on the planet to sustain the forecasted 9 billion people. This shortage will be the result of continued overusage, diminishing natural water supplies and lack of conservation efforts.
Water supplies can be easily polluted by industry chemicals, the waste disposal system and rain water drainage, among other things. And the lack of a functioning water supply system in many economically disadvantaged countries doesn’t help either.
So what the world needs is a method of treating water which is not resource intensive and doesn’t come with a hefty price tag — a practical method that can be used in developing countries. Perhaps Mr. Ramakrishna has created the building blocks for the solution.
Apples and Tomatoes
Mr. Ramakrishna had previously investigated the use of a tomato peel as an adsorbent (meaning that liquid or gas is caught on the surface of the peel, rather than absorbed into the peel), and his findings from that research were published in the Royal Society of Chemistry Journal in late 2012. He found that tomato peels in optimal conditions (think: pH and amount of adsorbant) can effectively remove water contaminants, such as pesticides, dyes and dissolved chemicals. And it can do all of this on a large scale.
With tomatoes being the second most eaten vegetable (yep, I know technically it’s a fruit) in the world, and 30% of it consumed as processed products, there’s currently plenty of tomato peel going to waste.
Mr. Ramakrishna also experimented with another easily available, biodegradable food source which often gets wasted along the factory line — apple peels.
Working in the same way as tomato peels, apple peels can remove many water pollutants when naturally occurring zirconium oxides on the peel are immobilized. These zirconium apple peels remove common pollutants that have a negative charge such as arsenate, arsenite and phosphate.
Crafting potential – something out of nothing
These findings are a breakthrough in current water treatment practices – with the potential to affect millions of disadvantaged families. Engineering this water purification method to work on a global scale could provide a sustainable source of clean water for not only thirsty mouths, but for disadvantaged farmers producing food in remote areas.
Thus it has the potential to relieve both thirst and hunger, in some countries at least. So despite the future of food security looking very grim, where there lies a problem, lies an opportunity for a great mind to fix it.
And Mr. Ramakrishna hasn’t stopped there; he’s now experimenting with different fruit peels and fibers to see what other food scraps can be recycled to creat clean water. All in a day’s work…