Home Enterprise Solutions Edith Cowan scientists find cheap way to purify wastewater

Edith Cowan scientists find cheap way to purify wastewater

A way of modifying the atomic structure of iron to create a metal that can remove impurities from water in a short time has been developed by scientists at the Edith Cowan University.

The development was reported in the Advanced Functional Materials journal recently. 

It has implications for the mining and textile industries, among others, where large amounts of wastewater are generated.

Associate Professor Laichang Zhang from ECU’s School of Engineering said the team changed the atomic structure of iron to form metallic glass.

He said metallic glass got its name because its atomic structure resembled that of glass.

While the atomic structure of traditional metals is very ordered, with the atoms forming a grid-like structure, metallic glass atoms are much more disorganised.

“It is this disordered atomic structure that gives metallic glass its very interesting and useful characteristics,” Prof Zhang said.

A thin strip of metallic glass can remove impurities such as dyes or heavy metals from even highly polluted water in minutes.

“It works by binding the atoms of the dye or heavy metals to the ribbon, leaving behind useable water,” Prof Zhang said.

“This offers a number of benefits compared to the current method of using iron powder to treat wastewater. Firstly, using iron powder leaves you with a large amount of iron sludge that must be stored. Secondly, it is expensive to produce and can only be used once.

“In contrast, the iron-based metallic glass we have developed can be re-used up to 20 times, produces no waste iron sludge and can be produced as cheaply a few dollars per kilogram.”

Prof Zhang said mining and textile production resulted in huge amounts of water that were contaminated with heavy metals and dyes respectively.

“We have already had significant interest from companies in both China and Australia who are keen to work with us to develop this technology, including Ausino Drilling Services, whose clients include Rio Tinto and the Aluminium Corporation of China,” he said.

Both Ausino chief executive Dr Minlu Fu and the vice-general manager of Beijing Wuyi Environmental Technology Yeqiang Wu said they were looking forward to collaborating with Prof Zhang.

“Our experts noticed that Laichang’s recent research using metallic glass as a catalyst for ultrafast water purification is very achievable in the industrial application,” Dr Fu said.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.