With the ever-rising demands from both the consumer and industrial sectors, a diversity of new chemicals and materials are produced every day, such as plastics, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and petroleum products. Many of them are hazardous and will be invariably released into the environment. Some molecules, however, are too complex or toxic to be biodegradable and must be processed with physical or chemical means before being discharged into natural water bodies of rivers, lakes, and oceans. Traditional remediation approaches rely mainly on transition or noble metals as catalysts to remove these organic pollutants from water. Regardless of the mediocre efficiency and high operational expenses, these metal catalysts are unstable and may cause secondary contamination.
Dr Xiaoguang Duan, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide in Australia, has developed a green remediation system to address the long-standing challenges in wastewater treatment. His research focuses on developing low-cost and intelligent functional materials as well as innovates purification technologies with non-metal catalysis. He discovered for the first time a new nonradical reaction process for wastewater treatment using metal-free nanocarbons as the catalysts. The developed green oxidation system is highly efficient and stable during long-term operation. Compared to traditional metal catalysts, non-metal nanomaterials demonstrated superior remediation efficiency and high selectivity toward trace-level micropollutants. As a result, the novel technology addressed the inefficiency of the traditional methods for treating complex aquatic systems. His team has successfully used the green purification technology to clean medicines, antibiotics, microplastics, germs, and viruses from wastewater. Remarkably, the technique shed fresh light on the treatment of clinical and hospital wastewater as well as hygiene issues in the current pandemic situation.
The significant findings on metal-free catalysis for advanced oxidation are breakthroughs in water remediation technologies from both engineering and fundamentals. The research of Dr Duan’s research inspires the development of next-generation purification systems employing green and safe nanotechnologies. Hundreds of related studies have been published by academics from all around the world in just a few years since the first milestone achieved in 2015. The outcomes have significantly empowered the advances in manufacture, water safety, and environmental sustainability.