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Kaye Antonette Chua

Joshua Emmanuel H. Pagulong

Nanotechnology for Water Purification: Applications of Nanotechnology

Methods in Wastewater Treatment

I. Introduction
Water is a vital substance we need in our daily life. We wash in it, fish in it, swim in it, drink it
and cook with it, although probably not all at the same time. We are about two-thirds water and require
water to live. Life as we know it could not have evolved without water and dies without it. Droughts
cause famines and floods cause death and disease (Chaplin, 2018). Because of its clear importance,
water must be responsibly handled in order to supply the demands of the people without
compromising safe and quality water for public consumption.
With all these growing demand entails a challenge on efficient water treatment process which
can provide safe and quality water for all. In our current situation, available technologies such as
screening, filtration, micro- and ultrafiltration, crystallization, sedimentation, gravity separation,
flotation, precipitation, membrane separation, fluidization, neutralization and remineralization,
reduction and oxidation, and so on for water treatment are struggling to keep up with the pressure
exerted by population growth and global climate change which forces treatment processes to reach
their limits in providing sufficient quality to meet human and environmental needs.
Conventional methods work well, but recent notorious anthropogenic pollutants (result of
modern human life style) pose a challenge to purify/treat the contaminated water. A literature survey
reveals no single method sufficient to remove all pollutants from water. High operational costs
prevent use of sophisticated techniques. Moreover, efficiency of the treatment plants decreases during
the removal of contaminants. Thus, the existing technologies are not “100%” effective to supply
potable water (Upadhyayula et al., 2009). New and improved technologies for water purification are,
therefore, extremely important.

II. Importance of Nanotechnology in Water Purification

The adaptation of highly advanced nanotechnology to traditional process engineering offers
new opportunities for development of advanced water and wastewater technology processes.
Nanotechnology is the study of particle sizes between 1 and 100 nanometers at least at one
dimension. Particle size reduced to nanometer length scale exhibit more surface area to volume size
ratio and showing unusual properties makes them enable for systematic applications in engineering,
biomedical, agricultural and allied sectors. Nanomaterial can create from bottom up or top down
approaches using physical, chemical and biological mode of synthesis (Tarafdar et al., 2013).
There are advances and application of nanotechnology for wastewater treatment.
Nanomaterials typically have high reactivity and a high degree of functionalization, large specific
surface area, size-dependent properties etc., which makes them suitable for applications in water &
wastewater treatment and for water purification (Bora & Dutta, 2014).

III. Application of Nanotechnology in Water or Wastewater Treatment

Nanotechnology can be applied to a wide variety of fields but for this paper, the focus is in
the application to water and wastewater treatment wherein the small particle size of nanoparticles is
a big factor which helps treat the water at a nano scale treatment. This field is very significant for the
chemical engineering practice since most of the toxic and hazardous waste are handled by chemical
engineers. Wherein, they have to design a quality assured and economical treatment process using at
the top of line technological innovations such as nanotechnology.
a. Nanoadsorption
From the term adsorption means the adherence of pollutants to the surface of
the nanoparticles. Given that nanoparticles have large specific surface area, therefore
nanoadsorption process has more opportunity to filter out pollutants through
adsorption to particles in a nanoscale.
Usually nanoadsorbents are used to remove inorganic and organic pollutants
from water and wastewater. The unique properties of nanoadsorbents, such as small
size, catalytic potential, high reactivity, large surface area, ease of separation, and
large number of active sites for interaction with different contaminants make them
ideal adsorbent materials for the treatment of wastewater (Ali, 2012).
The limitation of technology is on the high production cost due to the expensive
synthesis materials and fabrication process of nanoadsorbents. But nonetheless, these
advancements are still notable for pushing the limits of water and wastewater
treatment towards nanoscale. Examples of nanoadsorbents that are applied for
advanced specific applications today are the following:
i. Carbon-Based Nanoadsorbents
1. Removal of Organic Contaminants
From the conventional activated carbons that are applied on
water treatment, recent technological advancement applies Carbon
Nano Tubes (CNT). CNTs contain larger pores in bundles and a high
specific surface area with highly accessible adsorption sites which
makes then an ideal adsorbent to attract bulky organic contaminants in
our water streams (Ji et al., 2009).
2. Removal of Heavy Metal Ions
Heavy Metal ions in our water must be removed before public
consumption on order to avoid health hazard complications brought
about by the toxicity that these heavy metals may bring to our body. In
this light, recent studies found out that CNTs are very good adsorbing
nanomaterials for heavy metal ions such as Cu2+, Pb2+, Cd2+, and Zn2+
which the types of heavy metals that are not easily treated with the
conventional treatment methods (Lu et al., 2006).
ii. Metal-Based Nanoadsorbents
Metal-based nanoadsorbents, such as iron oxide, titanium dioxide, zinc
oxide, and alumina are used in heavy metal removal during water
decontamination. They are effective and low-cost materials. The mechanism
of action is that the oxygen in metal oxides complexed with heavy metals
dissolves in contaminated water (Trivedi and Axe, 2000).
The advantage of these metal-based nanoadsorbents is that they can
be regenerated by changing the solution pH. Regeneration process has little to
no alteration effect on its adsorbing capacity which makes it an ideal
technological advancement especially for an economical water treatment
b. Membranes and Membrane Processes
Conventional process utilizes membranes which are made of porous thin-
layered material that allows water molecules to pass through it, but at simultaneously
restricts the passage of bacteria, viruses, salts, and metals. Membranes use either
pressure-driven forces or electrical technologies. (Kumar et al., 2014).
In this light, membranes must be innovatively designed by chemical engineers
in order to meet requirements on permeability, fouling resistance, mechanical, and
thermal stability. With the help of nanotechnology on this field, several membrane
innovations have already been established but for me, one notable advancement in this
field is on the innovative Nanofiber Membranes. The advantage for this technology
especially for the chemical engineering aspect is that the nanofibers are already
designed to be free flowing, but gets rid of dirt, bacteria, viruses, and proteins through
Columbic interactions. This characteristic decreases the operational cost of treatment
which eliminates the need of use of high-pressure pumps through the process.
c. Photocatalysis
Photocatalysis is an advanced oxidation process employed in the treatment of
water and wastewater. This technique is based on the oxidative elimination of
micropollutants and microbial pathogens (Friedmann et al., 2010; Gehrke et al., 2015).
Photocatalysis shows a substantial potential as inexpensive, environmental
friendly, and a sustainable water-treatment technology. Yet, there are some technical
challenges for its large-scale application, such as (1) catalyst optimization to improve
quantum yield or to utilize visible light; (2) efficient photocatalytic reactor design and
catalyst recovery/immobilization techniques; (C) better reaction selectivity (Qu et al.,
The challenges for this existing cutting-edge technology are motivations for
chemical engineers to come up with an innovation to address the optimization, reactor
design, and selectivity concern since these are their field of expertise.
d. Antimicrobial Nanomaterials in Disinfection and Microbial Control
Current disinfection methods applied in the treatment of drinking water can
effectively control the microbial pathogens. Research conducted in the past few
decades, however, discloses a dilemma between effective disinfection and formation
of harmful disinfection by-products (DBPs) (Li et al., 2008).
Nanotechnology addresses this concern with the use of several kinds of
nanoparticles. Materials, such as nano-Ag, nano-ZnO, nano-TiO2, CNTs, and
fullerenes exhibit antimicrobial properties without strong oxidation; they have lower
tendency to form DBPs (Li et al., 2008; Hossain et al., 2014).
One notable technology is on the use of the anti-microbial action of silver
nanoparticles. They are the material of choice for water decontamination, due to the
following: significant and broad antimicrobial activity, safety, and easy to fabricate
(Xiu et al., 2012).
e. Nano Antimicrobial Polymers
Nanopolymeric antimicrobial materials show long-term antimicrobial activity.
They are nonvolatile and chemically stable. They can bind to the surface of interest and
hardly permeate through biological membranes (Kenawy et al., 2007).
One notable example for this type of technology is a Chitosan-Based
Nanoparticle. Nanochitosan has potential drinking water disinfection applications as
an antimicrobial agent in membranes, sponges, or surface coatings of water storage
tanks. Nanochitosan shows superiority over other disinfectants due to its broader
spectrum of activity against bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and less toxicity toward
animals and humans (Li et al., 2008).
IV. Regeneration of Nanoparticles
Regeneration of nanoparticles in water purification is one of the crucial aspects, since it controls
the economy of water treatment technology. Management of used nanoparticles and recovered
pollutants is one of the most important aspects. Everyone is aware of pollutant hazards and
nanotoxicology; proper disposal must be carried
out by the users.
V. Safety, Toxicity, and Environmental Impact of Nanomaterials
VI. Limitations and Research Needs
VII. Conclusion