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Natural Awakenings

Decontaminating Water with Plant Waste Protein

Glass with clean drinking water being poured in against black background

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Scientists have created a membrane using sunflower and peanut oilseed meal that shows potential as a cheap, low-power, sustainable and scalable method to decontaminate heavy metals from water. As published in the journal Chemical Engineering, a research team led by Professor Ali Miserez, of the Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) School of Materials Science and Engineering and School of Biological Sciences, and visiting Professor Raffaele Mezzenga, from the Department of Health Science and Technology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, discovered that proteins derived from the byproducts of peanut or sunflower oil production can effectively attract heavy metal ions. They demonstrated that the process of attraction called adsorption is able to purify contaminated water to a degree that meets international drinking standards.

Miserez says, “Water pollution remains a major global issue in many parts of the world. Heavy metals represent a large group of water pollutants that can accumulate in the human body, causing cancer and mutagenic diseases. Current technologies to remove them are energy-intensive, requiring power to operate, or are highly selective in what they filter. Our protein-based membranes are ... viable for use throughout the world, and especially in less-developed countries.” They are exploring commercial applications with the water filtration company BluAct.

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