Eleni Routoula - dyeing for clean water
Elen's research is focused on reducing environmental pollution from dyes in water.
The threat of textile dye
The dye production and textile industry are responsible for about 20% of industrial water pollution with 84,000tons of dyes (amongst other pollutants) entering our eaters annually.
Current legislation is not limiting dye discharge in water streams – especially in countries where textile industry is thriving. Due to the aesthetic effect and environmental implications, dye presence in water poses a serious environmental problem. Dyes can prevent penetration of light in the waters and lead to reduction of photosynthesis, or have extreme socio-ecologic consequences such as the recent blue coloured dogs in India!
Existing dye removal methods can do the job, but are not sustainable. Research has shown that spongy nanomaterials (teeny tiny particles) have wide applications in tackling environmental pollution, either for directly trapping pollutants from water or as hosts for other substances that can destroy pollutants.
I’m researching ways of removing dyes from water streams, using nanomaterials, either as a sole agent or as a carrier for “nature’s little helpers”, enzymes. The nanomaterials (bio-inspired silica) I‘m using are based on common sand, produced in a fast, economic and sustainable way - inspired by microalgae found in the ocean. Enzymes perform chemical reactions very fast, but only under their optimal conditions, otherwise they “die”. The use of nanomaterials as carriers for enzymes, provides safety and stability for them. In this way we take advantage of what is provided from nature and try to apply it in the area of water treatment.
The sponge effect
Overall, I am aiming to build knowledge and understanding on the use of bio-inspired silica for dye removal from water, how it performs on its own, as a “sponge” and how its action is transformed once enzymes are entrapped. What I’m focusing at is how to design the nanomaterial as a perfect cage around the enzyme, so it is able to perform necessary movements, yet being secured in its protective environment. I’m looking at the surface properties of bioinspired silica and how they change once the enzyme gets entrapped in it. Also, I am looking at the properties of the enzyme (ability to break down dye under various conditions) and how they change once it is entrapped into bioinspired silica.
My research is based on simplicity, avoiding unnecessary chemicals and synthesis procedures, so that the produced biocatalyst can be easily scaled up for industrial production if proven successful. Future prospects of this work could be use the production of effective biocatalysts that are easy to scale up and be used at industrial level, finding applications not only towards environmental protection, but also production of pharmaceuticals or food processing, depending on enzymes used.
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