Research conducted by a young Indian-origin scholar, Ms. Pavani Cherukupally, at the University of Toronto suggests the simple sponge has the potential to tackle such contaminants. He is part of the university’s mechanical engineering department.
The inspiration for this field of endeavor comes from growing up in Hyderabad and experiencing the degradation of the Musi River that defines that city. Speaking on her research, the young Indian-origin scholar says, “I have developed a new sponge-based water technology to remediate oil field wastewater using ordinary sponges. This water has highly concentrated organic contamination. As you might be aware, Indian rivers such as the Ganga, Yamuna, and Musi also have a high concentration of organic contamination. So, we could extend this technology to remediate Indian rivers”.
Importantly, the technology of using sponges to soak up contaminants has existed since the 1800s. Most people use them for everyday activities such as cleaning kitchen counters, then wringing the sponge clean. That is the basis of the simple but effective concept of Ms. Cherukupally’s project, which uses newly developed techniques to adapt it to a larger problem. It works as a filter, as she said, “The water passes through it, oil droplets are trapped inside and clean water comes out”. Her concept, now undergoing refining in the laboratory, uses the polyurethane sponge charged to attract the ions of the water’s pollutants that have opposing charges. Cherukupally believes the technology, once fully developed, can be applied to polluted Indian rivers. Not only will it be effective but it can be used by small industries, since unlike the expensive membranes used at effluent treatment plants, the sponge-based system will be an affordable alternative. While remove pollutants makes for a healthier environment, she is also actively looking into using the system “to remove water borne bacteria”. As she explained, “As we know, Indian rivers have many microbes in them. Therefore, this direction of the project is also very critical in extending sponge technology to polluted rivers and lakes”.
The field trials at a facility in Nova Scotia province are expected within a few months. Canadian government agencies such as the department of fisheries and Natural Resource Canada are supporting the research.