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The University of Wyoming and a state nonprofit organization have teamed up in an effort to make water safer to drink worldwide.
UW recently completed a license agreement with the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS) in which the organization will develop and market the university’s patented technology that removes arsenic from water.
“We’re going to use our contacts within the industry (water treatment companies) and market this to try to get somebody to go forth with a commercially viable product for the technology,” says Mark Pepper, executive director of WARWS, which is based in Glenrock. “Money from royalties will flow back to the university to the benefit of the state.”
WARWS is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to assisting its membership with training and technical assistance to enable Wyoming’s rural water and wastewater systems to provide “quality on tap.”
“It’s exciting to see that the research is going to the next stage, as a practical application,” says KJ Reddy, a professor in UW’s Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, who invented the arsenic-cleaning process.
Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless semi-metal element. It enters drinking water supplies from natural earth deposits or from agricultural and industrial activity. Arsenic has been linked to bladder, kidney, liver, lung, nasal passage, prostate and skin cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s official website.
The arsenic standard for drinking water is set by the EPA at .010 parts per million to protect consumers -- served by public water systems -- from long-term effects of chronic exposure to arsenic.
“Arsenic is not just an issue in Wyoming, but worldwide,” Pepper says.
“Our goal is to work with WARWS, recognizing its expertise in water systems and its strong connection with industry, to make water safer to drink as well as to transfer UW technology into new products to diversify the Wyoming economy,” says Davona Douglass, UW Research Products Center director.
Using cupric oxide nanoparticles as an oxidizer, Reddy’s process essentially scrubs arsenic from water. The nanoparticles oxidize the more toxic arsenite compound into the less-toxic compound, arsenate, Reddy says.
Pepper says the technology works like water filters that are attached to household faucets. Such filters remove elements before water flows through the faucet.
While there are other technologies on the market that have the ability to remove arsenic from water, UW’s technology was attractive because of its potential for commercial affordability, Pepper says.
Reddy agrees, saying his arsenic removal process is less energy and time intensive than others.
“A big advantage is my process is a one-step process” for arsenic removal, Reddy says. “Unlike other processes on the market, there is no pre-treatment or post-treatment.”
Additionally, Reddy says the ability to regenerate and reuse the nanoparticles reduces costs compared to other technologies. The cupric oxide is regenerated by leaching it with sodium hydroxide. The regenerated cupric oxide can then be used again to remove trace elements from waters, Reddy says.
“That’s (marketing of technology) where I really see the value in the patents and the process he (Reddy) is using,” Pepper says. “He used readily available compounds that were commercially available and could be made affordably.”
An accidental discovery
Reddy terms his science an “accidental discovery.” In the mid-‘90s, Cogema -- a uranium company based in Casper at the time -- was looking for a way to remove selenium from uranium-produced water. The company funded a project for Reddy to remove selenium from uranium-produced water. Reddy used cupric oxide nanoparticles to remove the selenium. Along the way, he discovered his method also removed arsenic from the water. Reddy spent the next seven years trying to understand why.
“Seven years ago, the scientific and engineering community was skeptical,” Reddy says of his discovery. “Now, they are becoming accepting of this new process to filter arsenic and other trace elements from water.”
UW now owns U.S. patents for both the arsenic removal process and for the regeneration of the cupric oxide nanoparticles. Reddy owns four international patents -- in Australia, Japan, Mexico and New Zealand -- for the filtering process.