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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/Y003063/1
Principal Investigator: Expósito, Dr A J
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
The University of Hong Kong
Department: Chemical Engineering
Organisation: University of Bath
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 01 July 2024 Ends: 30 June 2025 Value (£): 160,558
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Catalysis & Applied Catalysis Condensed Matter Physics
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
24 May 2023 ECR International Collaboration Grants Panel 3 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This project aims to develop a sustainable way of degrading persistent pollutants from wastewater. It will do so by bringing different expertise into the project to develop new catalysts. This new technology has the potential to remove toxic and dangerous pollutants to the environment in a green way by using sunlight.

The use of pharmaceutical compounds and pesticides has brought immense benefits to society. However, those chemicals consist in complex organic molecules that are made to resist for long periods of time in the bodies or the environment to be efficient, but the persistence of such components supposes a risk to the environment. They accumulate in water and cannot be completely removed by traditional technology wastewater treatment plants. Thus, they reach rivers and lakes and negatively affect the biota.

In order to remove those persistent pollutants, it is necessary to use alternative solutions with enough energy to break their stable chemical bonds and accelerate their degradation. One option is using the called Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs). AOPs are based on generating radical molecules, such as hydroxyl or superoxide radicals. Radicals are very energetic and quickly react with any other molecule around them, including the molecules of persistent pollutants. During the reaction, the pollutant releases electrons to the radical. In this process, the different chemical bonds break and generate intermediate by-products until finally, only water and carbon dioxide remain as a product. The process of transforming the persistent organic pollutant into water and CO2 is called mineralisation.

A sustainable method to generate radicals is using semiconductor materials. The semiconductors materials can be excited by sunlight to generate electron/hole pairs. Both can react with water and oxygen to produce radicals that can be used for the removal of persistent pollutants. The challenges with the current semiconductor materials are that they are not active with sunlight and that the pair and electrons recombine instead of being used in productive reactions.

This project aims to investigate how to change the material structure of semiconductor materials. Dr Exposito is an expert in photocatalysis and by adding elements like phosphorous or oxygen to the structure, he will promote the generation of electron/hole pairs. Furthermore, to avoid recombination, we will combine the semiconductor materials with organic lipids. These organic lipids will contain iron that can react with hydrogen peroxide to produce extra hydroxyl radicals. In this way, some electrons generated in the semiconductor that would recombine will be used to generate radicals through the lipid membrane and avoid recombination. To understand how to attach the lipids and the behaviour, this project will promote collaboration with Dr Tse, a global leader in lipid membranes.

The success of this project would contribute to directly to UN sustainable goals 6, Clean Water and Sanitation, and 14, Life Below Water, and indirectly to others like Sustainable Cities and Communities (11) or Responsible Consumption and Production (12).

By proposing new, green ways of removing persistent pollutants from water, this proposal will contribute to a more sustainable UK's economy and society. The success of this research would bring new perspectives to the wastewater treatment sector, with societal and environmental impacts.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.bath.ac.uk