Researchers have developed a process to remove contaminants from oil sands wastewater using only sunlight and nanoparticles that is more effective and inexpensive than conventional treatment methods.
Frank Gu, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo and Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology Engineering, is the senior researcher on the team that was the first to find that photocatalysis — a chemical reaction that involves the absorption of light by nanoparticles — can completely eliminate naphthenic acids in oil sands wastewater, and within hours. Naphthenic acids pose a threat to ecology and human health. Water in tailing ponds left to biodegrade naturally in the environment still contains these contaminants decades later.
“With about a billion tonnes of water stored in ponds in Alberta, removing naphthenic acids is one of the largest environmental challenges in Canada,” said Tim Leshuk, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering at Waterloo and the leader of the study . “Conventional treatments people have tried either haven’t worked, or if they have worked, they’ve been far too impractical or expensive to solve the size of the problem. Waterloo’s technology is the first step of what looks like a very practical and green treatment method.”