In this 21st century where digitalization and globalization are ruling around every corner of the world, people are less aware of the fact of environmental degradation associated with it. Among this environmental degradation, the one that has been severely affected is the availability of safe drinking water which has been decreased to an acute lower level.
The Indian government has taken many measures to increase the availability of safe drinking water, yet we are facing the problem of safe and clean drinking water scarcity in many parts of India. Rapid industrialization and population explosion have resulted in the generation and dumping of various contaminants into the environment. These harmful compounds deteriorate the human health as well as the surrounding environments.
Current research aims to harness and enhance the natural ability of different microbes to metabolize these toxic compounds. Microbial-mediated bioremediation offers great potential to reinstate the contaminated environments in an ecologically acceptable approach. However, the lack of knowledge regarding the factors controlling and regulating the growth, metabolism, and dynamics of diverse microbial communities in the contaminated environments often limits its execution.
While existing purification techniques can remove solid pollutants as well as dissolved inorganic compounds, removing dissolved organic compounds remain a challenge. Industries do not clean their wastewater but simply dump it in the river. It is only after the river is contaminated completely that we think about taking action to clean the river. The time and cost associated with existing techniques are high and in some cases, the respective processes on the water are done under a controlled environment and temperature to remove toxic solid particles as well as inorganic compounds.
Scientists at IIT Mandi have developed a self-cleaning glass that can remove microbes and organic pollutants — like dyes, detergent, and drugs — from wastewater, using only sunlight. Wastewater from pharmaceutical and textile industries are a major source of river pollution in India and abroad.
The three people behind this innovation are Dr. Rahul Vaish, an associate professor at IIT Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, and research scholars, Gurpreet Singh and Sandeep Kumar. In a significant development, they have developed self- cleaning transparent calcium (silicated) borate glasses and titanium dioxide glass nano-composites that use sunlight and clean wastewater by killing bacteria and microbes present in dyes, drugs and detergents.
Existing technologies can clean up solid pollutants besides dissolved inorganic compounds, but microbes and organic pollutants like dyes and detergents that dissolve in water cannot be removed. This self-cleaning glass can only clean up microbes and organic pollutants, and not solid particles. While sewage treatment plants can filter out the solid particles and toxic inorganic compounds, removing dissolved organic dye compounds that are considered carcinogenic remains a challenge.
The self-cleaning glass purifies the water with the process called “Photocatalysis” is similar to photosynthesis. The glass has a delicate outer coating of titanium dioxide. When ultraviolet light hits the titanium dioxide coating of self-cleaning glass, electrons are generated. These electrons break the molecules. For example, if we have CH4 (methane) in the wastewater, it is broken down into CO2 and H2O. There is no extra cost of capital involved and only need sunlight.
These glasses are made using a technique called melt quenching, which is the traditional technique of making glass. These easy to fabricate glasses can be made in the form of large panels which can have a wide range of applications from water bottles to large water cleaning tanks. Many researchers have successfully demonstrated the removal of such toxic chemicals from water. However, cost and efficiency associated with existing technologies are significant obstacles in their commercial usage.
The glass can remove detergents from water. It could be used in washing machines to clean the water at the discharge point itself, rather than letting the contaminated water flow into our river systems. Glass cutlery can also be made that is antibacterial and reduces the probability of bacteria in the food. For example, if you drink water out of a copper jug, there are greater chances of drinking pure water. It is the same for silver utensils as well. However, such utensils are costly, and consumers aren’t using it. This is another potential use for self-cleaning glass.
Researchers led by Dr. Vaish are also looking to enhance the transparency of these glasses so that they can be used to replace regular windows. There is even massive potential for mobile applications as well, considering the phone screen one of the biggest carriers and transmitters of bacteria. Another prospective use is to integrate it into sewage treatment plants in an eco-friendly and economical manner. This technology can remove NOx (oxides of nitrogen) from the air and be used to clean it. If we place these glasses in our windows, we can fight air pollution too.
In the near future, this self-cleaning glass would be helping us to overcome many obstacles with its different applications being eco-friendly and economical. You can also be the one contributing to the benefit and ease of our lives by applying your various innovative ideas and products, thus making India a better place. If they can do it, you too can!!!
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Edited by Saket Dethe