UAE defeats pollution; Khalifa University builds high-tech wastewater filter

Researchers utilized previously unused date syrup to collect the carbon required to produce the graphene.

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Khalifa University
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A team of highly proficient researchers at the Khalifa University of Science and Technology has built a graphene-sand hybrid material capable of absorbing pollutants from industrial wastewater, using two natural resources of great abundance in the UAE – sand and dates.

The process involves attaching pollutants onto small particles that are then easily removed, they added.

As synthesizing graphene-sand adsorbents can be prohibitively expensive, the University researchers turned to a previously unused resource, date syrup to gather the carbon required to produce the graphene. “The adsorbent can be used as an environmentally benign and scalable option for decontaminating wastewater, with the adsorption capacity far surpassing that of similar reported graphene-based adsorbents,” the researchers discovered.

Led by Dr. Fawzi Banat, Professor, Chemical Engineering, the team includes Anjali Edathil, former Research Engineer, and Shaihroz Khan, visiting Research Assistant. The strategy used in its original form to produce the graphene-sand hybrid with date syrup is elaborated in a paper published in Scientific Reports.

Dr. Banat’s team used pyrolysis, the process of chemically decomposing organic materials at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, to decompose the date syrup. This triggers a change of chemical composition and the synthesis of a large volume of graphene material, that subsequently attaches to desert sand without the use of any external chemical agents. Moreover, graphene’s high surface area, combined with its versatile chemistry and highly water-repellent surface physical property, makes it an ideal adsorbent for removing pollutants.

Dr. Banat’s graphene-sand hybrid adsorbent was tested in the laboratory and exhibited remarkable efficiency in simultaneously removing both dye and heavy metals from multicomponent systems. The researchers concluded that their adsorbent had great potential as an exceptional material resource of water purification.

“This will undoubtedly open new avenues for the practicability of graphene to curb the existing water shortage,” said Dr. Banat. “We hope our material will help in increasing water resources in the UAE, reducing energy consumption in wastewater treatment processes and be used to convert oily wastewaters from waste-to-commodity that can be used in applications such as industrial recycling and agriculture.”