Ruud van Ommen

Science for the benefit of people. All people. Worldwide.

Story nr.

9

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A water purification system based on sunlight and nanotechnology

Water contamination is one of the biggest challenges the world is facing today: some 750 million people have no access to clean drinking water, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Hao Van Bui describes the situation in his homeland Vietnam: “It is not only the rivers that are affected by the problem; the industrial boom of the past ten years has also caused serious groundwater contamination. And it’s getting worse.” Hao’s story spurred Dr Ruud van Ommen into tackling the problem. And he is using nanotechnology to do it.

Van Ommen says the truly innovative aspect of the TU Delft Global Research Fellowship project his team is undertaking is one of scale. “A lot of people around the globe are experimenting with nanotechnology but not many can make the transition from small-scale lab findings to large-scale reality.” Nanotechnology can be used to make a variety of materials, for instance solar cells to generate renewable energy. Or, as in this particular case: graphene to remove chemical and biological pollutants from water. “We start by growing the graphene on a grid. Our particular field of expertise lies with what comes next: combining the graphene with materials which will make it react to sunlight. When we place the grid in a container of running water and put it in the sun, pollutants such as agricultural pesticides are broken up and rendered harmless. So there’s polluted water entering from one side and safe drinking water coming out on the other. This container is what we call our ‘reactor design’.”

Van Ommen and Van Bui are working with a research team based at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology which has ample experience in the manufacture of graphene. Another important partner is Quy Nhon University. “It’s a local university right in the middle of the area affected by the problem. We are also in contact with a local start-up company which will develop and mass produce our prototype.” Hao Van Bui plays a pivotal role in the communication between the different partners, not only because he knows Vietnam like no other, but also because of his broad scientific background. Van Bui holds a Bachelor degree in Physics, a Master in Materials Science, and a PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Twente. In his current job as a postdoc in the Chemical Engineering department at Delft University of Technology he is doing research into appropriate materials for the photocatalyst. In two years’ time Van Bui will be heading back to Vietnam and take up a job at Quy Nhon University where he will be able to combine research with the application of his findings on site.

What drives Van Bui? “The level of research in Vietnam is not as high as in the Netherlands. We don’t have the resources to finance facilities such as well-equipped laboratories. At Twente University I was able to work with expensive machines and that taught me a lot. But I chose to come to Delft because the Chemical Engineering department here works with relatively simple equipment put together in the lab by the scientists themselves. When I go back to Vietnam I know there won’t be a huge budget to buy equipment. Here I’m learning to build it myself! And that’s the know-how I’m taking back to Vietnam.”

Co-workers: Dominik Benz and Hao Van Bui

Global Research Fellowship

Global Challenges
Clean drinking water

High-tech Science
Nanotechnology, atomic layer deposition, reactor engineering, abundant materials, scalability, long lifetime, high reactivity

Co-Creation
Hanoi University of Science and Technology (Vietnam), Quy Nhon University (Vietnam)

Story nr.

9

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