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Review of Nanomaterial Research and Relevance for Water Reuse

Project: 10-13
Year Released: 2013
Type: White Paper

Program: Principal
Funding Partner: Pentair Foundation
Total Investment: $47,978.18 (Cash: $24,669.18, In-Kind: $23,309)

Principal Investigator: Qilin Li, Rice University


Nanotechnology has shown great potential for their applications in water treatment and reuse. Significant research has been devoted to tackle some of the major challenges in water treatment using nanotechnology enabled processes. Meanwhile, its potential health and ecological risks pose equally immense challenge to current water treatment systems. Being up to date with the development of new nanomaterial-based technologies allows the utilities to take advantage of this opportunity and prepare themselves for potential regulations.

Goals and Objectives

The project provides water reuse utilities with knowledge of nanomaterial research and related opportunities and challenges relevant to water reuse. In addition, this information will help the WateReuse Research Foundation and reuse utilities identify nanomaterial-related research needs that will directly benefit reuse utilities.

Research Approach

This report identifies major national and international research programs on environmental and health impact of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and their main research goals and scopes. Second, it summarizes past and ongoing research on applications of ENMs relevant to water reuse and the potential ecological and human health risks of nanomaterial in the context of water reuse. Last, it identifies major knowledge gaps and research needs as pertinent to water reuse. The report will help answer three key questions from utilities:

  • How can water reuse utilities take advantage of burgeoning nanotechnology?
  • How can ENMs be removed by wastewater treatment trains and how can they affect wastewater treatment processes?
  • What are the nanomaterial-related regulatory issues that water reuse utilities should be aware of?

Findings and Conclusions

Nanotechnology provides leapfrogging opportunities to improve water reuse. It has been studied for applications in a variety of water treatment processes including adsorption, membrane processes, photocatalysis, disinfection and microbial control, sensing and monitoring, corrosion control, and environmental remediation. These nanotechnology enabled water and wastewater treatments can enhance water reuse not only by overcoming challenges faced by existing water reuse technologies but also provide new treatment capabilities that could allow reuse of highly contaminated water or increase the range of end use for the reclaimed water. Among them, nano-adsorbents, nano-composite membranes, and nano-photocatalysts have shown most promise in full scale application in the near future. Some other nanotechnologies have also found their niches on the market.

On the other hand, the challenges are equally immense. The necessary tools to detect and characterize nanomaterial in wastewater, as well as to assess their potential health and environmental risk are largely missing. Although there exists significant uncertainty in the potential regulation of nanomaterials in wastewater and drinking water, the numerous reports on their toxicity and occurrence in wastewater urge the water reuse community to be proactive and be prepared for removing nanomaterials from wastewater.

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