International Innovation Project on the Computer-aided High Throughput Development and Upscaling of Tailored Zeolites as Waste Water Filters in Ghana

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Chemistry


Illegal gold mining operations are a growing problem in Ghana, owing to the practice of alluvial mining techniques and the heavy use of toxic chemicals, which leads to significant pollution by cyanide, mercury, other heavy metals and organic contaminants, of the water sources that serve the local population. The mining and other local communities are thus deprived of access to clean water, leading to serious health problems. In addition to any chemical treatment of the effluent water, there is an urgent need to develop physical absorbents to remove the pollutants, which, however, need to be both efficient and cost-effective. Microporous zeolite materials are very effective absorbents and ion exchangers, which can be tuned to be highly selective towards adsorbate(s) of interest, with the accompanying release of non-toxic ions into the environment. They can be synthesised from readily available materials and are compact, cheap and simple to maintain in full-scale operations.
This cross-disciplinary project will bring together an experienced team of geochemists, physicists, computational and materials scientists from academia and industry to develop efficient synthetic zeolites, made from naturally available minerals, for the cost-effective treatment of waste water from gold mines, before its discharge into the environment. The zeolites will be characterised and tested on a laboratory scale before up-scaling both synthesis and filtration process into an operational treatment plant to serve a local metropolitan population.

Planned Impact

The research in this project will clearly have impact on:

(i) Society, by developing a proto-type filtration system, which will decontaminate water sources used for drinking water by local communities in Ghana, thus improving their health and well-being;

(ii) The Natural environment in heavily polluted gold-mining areas, which should improve through the filtration of mine effluent before discharge into the environment; and potentially

(iii) The economy in Ghana, through the design of new microporous filtration systems, which could be commercialised;

The project will also benefit the UK, as any new zeolites or other products invented and produced in the project will be co-patented by Cardiff University, who have an excellent track record in exploiting the outcomes of research and innovation.
Description Using molecular modelling techniques, we have identified the most promising zeolites for the uptake of mercury from toxic soil and water deposits as a result of (illegal) artisan gold mining in Ghana and west Africa generally. These zeolites have been produced from bauxite and kaolin, which is widely available Ghana and the experimental tests confirm the computational results, thus creating a potential path to decontamination of soil and water using cheap locally produced materials.
Exploitation Route We are continuing to work on the project and are now in a good position to take the fundamental work that has been completed successfully further with industrial partners.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description IIT Madras 
Organisation Indian Institute of Technology Madras
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Professor P. Selvam at IIT Madras, India, who has visited my research group and hosted the postdoctoral researcher engaged in this project. The IIT Madras team is expert in the synthesis of tailored zeolites and testing of their catalytic properties.
Collaborator Contribution They will synthesise zeolites as pure counterparts to the clay-based materials from Ghana and test all materials for their catalytic properties. Translation will be possible as well, as Engineering colleagues in IIT Madras are developing a low-cost portable water filter for rural communities in India.
Impact Paper submitted
Start Year 2019