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    Chemists from Gdańsk develop photocatalytic materials to purify water and air

    Researchers at the Gdańsk University of Technology are developing photocatalysts that can remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater and pollutants such as nitrogen oxides or benzo(α)pyrene present in dust from air.


    The team led by Professor Anna Zielińska-Jurek from the Department of Process Engineering and Chemical Technology, Faculty of Chemistry, Gdańsk University of Technology, is developing new photocatalytic materials that are semiconductors and absorb solar radiation.

    Posting on its website, the university said:

    “The accumulated charge can be converted into reactive oxygen species. These, in turn, are capable of very effectively oxidising pollutants present in water or air.”

    Marta Kowalkińska, a graduate of the university and now a doctoral candidate, has developed a photocatalyst that eliminates organic pollutants in water due to its morphology.

    “I am particularly focused on the degradation of pharmaceuticals that are not biodegradable in conventional wastewater and industrial treatment systems.”

    she said.

    These pharmaceuticals include naproxen, ibuprofen and paracetamol, which are popular over-the-counter painkillers.

    The human body partially metabolises these pharmaceutical compounds. However, as the researchers point out, these metabolites are not always biodegradable, and some of the compounds are excreted in an unchanged form.

    Professor Anna Zielińska-Jurek said: “Although pharmaceuticals do not occur in high concentrations in wastewater, they can bioaccumulate in water or biomagnify in the environment, causing toxicity and affecting living organisms in a number of ways.”

    The researchers are particularly interested in developing technologies that will eliminate these substances from wastewater and surface waters.

    The research is not limited to water

    UV light is expensive and there is very little of it – only 3-5 percent of the spectrum of sunlight – so the researchers want to increase the efficiency of the process by activating the material in visible light. They are cooperating closely with PKN Orlen S.A. on the introduction of this solution.

    Photocatalysts can be used to modify different surfaces, giving them new properties. The Gdańsk researchers are working on the application of an eco-friendly photocatalyst in asphalt.

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