Year/Course: 2016-2017, Easter 2017

Researchers: Mike Coto and Dr. Vasant Kumar, Materials Science and Metallurgy
Mentor: Dr Ian Willis

Ten percent of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water. Although governments, development agencies, and non-profit organizations have made significant investments in water infrastructure, water scarcity and contamination remains widespread in developing countries. This causes both socioeconomic and health burdens. Globally, waterborne diseases are a leading cause of death among children under five, killing more infants than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Researchers in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy are interested in addressing these challenges using solar photocatalysis. They have developed highly active photocatalytic materials that utilise the energy of the sun to oxidise biological and chemical water contaminants. Through scalable wet chemistry techniques they have synthesized photocatalyts with excellent bacteria and chemical oxidation efficiency. Promising lab-based results have been validated by field tests in Tanzania, purifying heavily polluted surface waters in and around Dar es Salaam. Recent research has focused on developing porous photocatalytic membrane structures that allow water to flow through and be treated under direct sunlight.

Photocatalyst technology has the potential to offer a uniquely simple, affordable and renewable water treatment method. It could work well in developing world markets because it promises low manufacturing costs, ease of use, independence from a power supply, and is a highly efficient way of removing organic pollutants, toxins, and infectious agents. Following on from an earlier Technology i-Teams project which resulted in the formation of a spin-out company, CamSES, the Development i-Team will explore the opportunities and challenges likely to be associated with the commercialisation of photocatalytic membranes in the developing world. This will focus in particular on the challenges and opportunities relating to technology uptake generated by social, cultural and other contextual factors.