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Project name:

Heavy metal water purification by polymeric cryogel

Status: Idea
Creation date: 09-05-2022

Project objectives:

Summary An Italian research team proposes a technology in the field of water/wastewater treatment. It provides new macroporous superabsorbent polymeric materials able to remove toxic contaminants from water and soil. Compared to the polymeric systems already known, the proposed material shows a high and improved sequestering and adsorbing capacity. To develop a new filtering device ready for the market, the team is looking for technical, financial, license or joint venture cooperation agreements.


Industrial water consumption is a major drain on the world’s limited resources. Every day, all around the world, tons of water polluted by industrial processes are produced, then wastewater treatment is an effective solution. The removal of contaminants affords clean water suitable to safely return to the environment. In the water/wastewater market scenario the current technology aims to act as a product supplier and process consultant.

This technology has been developed by an Italian interdisciplinary research team, whose consolidated experience ranges between synthesis and modification of polymeric materials, organic synthesis, environmental analysis and mechanical engineer.
Industrial wastewater treatment, conducted by using absorbing materials, is an effective solution. The removal of contaminants affords clean water, suitable to safely return to the environment.

The described technology allows to achieve, in a sustainable way, a spongy polymeric material, for the effective removal of several contaminants from water, such as heavy metals and organic molecules. The invention finds application as a filter element for the removal of inorganic pollutants from water. This material can find a valid location and be easily integrated as a filter in tertiary wastewater treatments without additional system implementation costs, as a filter for industrial plants (tanning, dyes, textiles, microelectronics), in agriculture for boron removal, and filter cartridges for tap water. In remote areas where the presence of arsenic in water intended for domestic use is considerably higher than the legal limits imposed by the World Health Organization (10 µg/ L), this simple method of preparation and use could overcome the complexity and operational costs connected to the current technologies.

The invention relates to the production of N-methyl-D-glucamine (NMG)-based cryogel by polymerization in water at temperature below 0 °C. The obtained material, at the same weight, is able to complex larger quantities of metal ions than the used commercial resins. This constitutes a significant advantage in terms of production costs (use of energy and raw materials) and final disposal of the material, with a related increase in environmental sustainability. Sustainability, from an environmental point of view, is also given by the synthesis procedure (the solvent is water) as well as by the possibility of reusing and regenerating the material without losing its chemical-physical and mechanical properties.
The process of reusing the material is quick and simple from an operational point of view. It guarantees reuse without any loss in terms of filtering / sequestering capacity up to at least 18 times.

Taking advantage from the technology and the expertise of the research team, it could be possible to develop tailored solutions to requests of the customers interested either in the remediation of water, or in the recovery of high-value compounds.

The research team is looking for the following types of cooperation:
1) Financial cooperation with investors who want to join or support a new company with the aim to further develop the technology and its applications in environment and man care.
2) Joint venture cooperation with a SME operating in the field of wastewater treatment to co-development of a new and performing filtering device for water purification by toxic inorganic and/or organic pollutants.
3) Technical cooperation with a SME operating in the field of wastewater treatment to test the prototype in a real environment and help the research team to improve the development and the technical aspect of the technology.
4) Alternatively, the team can offer the technology under a licensing agreement.

Advantages & innovations Water/wastewater global trade is continuously growing as confirmed by market analysis, with encouraging forecast in the next few years. Water purification improvements provided by this technology make the material play a key–role in this market. Indeed, the materials are notably more active than the remediation solutions now in the market and reusable for longer time. The research team employs cheaper starting materials, eco-sustainable production process under mild conditions, obtaining recyclable products. As a result, purchase and disposal costs could be hugely reduced for wastewater companies. The technology is able to furnish a range of polymer sponges, specifically designed and synthesized to remove selected contaminants from water such as heavy metals or organic molecules, providing purified water. The superior absorption capacity of arsenic (76.3 mg/ g) and chromium (130.9 mg/ g) is remarkable when compared with the commercial analogue IRA 743 characterized by values equal to 14.7 mg/ g and 29.3 mg/ g for arsenic and chromium respectively. After water treatment, these materials are also reusable for almost 20 times. Using a much smaller amount of material reaches the same remediation activity of the competitors, with a remarkable money saving for customers. Less material also means less waste and lower impact on the environment. Metals or organic molecules trapped inside the materials can be easily recovered and sold, obtaining additional profits. The competitive advantage can be resumed in the selectivity and the possibility of easily recover the seized material. This last aspect makes this product very interesting for the application in the microelectronic wastewater sector, a growing strategic segment to face the increasing demand for rare earth oxides and specific metals for manufacturing of electronic components, which nowadays accompany us in more and more contexts.

Stage of development Project already started

Contact / source: Enterprise Europe Network (