Researcher Shares in $400,000 NSF Grant for Drinking Water Treatment

MELBOURNE, FLA.—Virender Sharma, Florida Institute of Technology professor of chemistry, joins in a National Science Foundation-funded grant to develop ferrates (iron in +4, +5, and +6 oxidation states) to control harmful cyanobacteria from drinking water reservoirs worldwide. The project, which will explore ways to remove cyanotoxins, or water-soluble toxic compounds produced by blue-green algae, provides $402,800 over three years to test the use of ferrates in the laboratory and the field.

Sharma is the principle investigator of this grant and will receive about 50 percent of the awarded funds. Other grant collaborators are Dion Dionysiou, University of Cincinnati; Kevin O’Shea, Florida International University; and Judy Westrick, Wayne State University.

Of serious concern for human health, cyanobacteria have most recently been problematic in the Great Lakes and in Florida watersheds, such as Lake Okeechobee, the St. Johns River, Lake Griffin and the Rainbow River. With the outlook for warmer waters due to climate change, algae are expected to flourish, which in turn may increase the frequency and toxicity due to an expected increase of cyanobacteria.

Conventional oxidative technologies for removal of cyanobacteria and their toxins, such as chlorination, UV light and ozonization are frequently not cost-effective and may create toxic byproducts. Sharma’s research will investigate the degradation of these toxins by different ferrates under natural water conditions. “Additionally, we will develop a novel photocatalyst, which in the presence of the Fe(VI) ferrate, under solar light and visible light irradiation in the lab, we expect to yield effective degradation of cyanotoxins,” said Sharma.

“We believe we can make a significant and cost-effective contribution in the field of water purification using ferrate technologies,” he added.

The research on ferrates began in September and will continue for the next three years. Several graduate and undergraduate students will be involved in the research and graduate students will produce their Ph.D. dissertations from this research. Undergraduate students will gain hands-on experience in the field of environmental chemistry. Students will collect samples during cyanobacterial bloom events in the St. Johns River and Indian River lagoons, and the researchers will perform tests on the removal of toxins by ferrates. For the past several years, Sharma has conducted funded research to combat water pollution around the world through the use of ferrates.

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