UA startup to use $1 million grant to develop technology to remove explosives from water

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 324 views 

The University of Arkansas announced Tuesday (Feb. 23) a UA-based startup will receive a $1.1 million grant to develop technology to remove explosives stored in water at explosives production facilities.

CatalyzeH2O, an engineering firm that creates nanotechnology and electrochemical solutions for clean water, was awarded a Department of Defense contract with the U.S. Army. The startup will use chemical engineering methods to remove explosives from the water.

Shelby Foster, a doctoral student in the Ralph E. Martin Department of Chemical Engineering, and Lauren Greenlee, an associate professor of chemical engineering, founded the company. Foster is the company’s CEO, and Greenlee serves as a technical adviser.

The focus of the Department of Defense grant is on designing a more efficient and less expensive system to remove explosives from the water.

“We are looking to remove explosives from water at (explosives) production facilities,” Foster said. “Explosives are often kept in solution for safer handling of the compounds. However, explosives can also be found in both soil and groundwater after use.”

Groundwater contamination can lead to health issues in impacted areas, Foster said.

“The explosives will be detonated, contaminating the soil and surrounding ground,” she said. “Rainfall will interact with the explosives in the ground and soil, leading to leaching of the compounds into the groundwater. The two explosives we are looking at removing are carcinogenic and often lead to other adverse health effects in mammals.”

CatalyzeH2O will use a method that destroys the explosives in the water supply as opposed to existing approaches that only remove the explosives. The existing solutions on the market take time and a large capital investment because of operational costs, Foster said.

CatalyzeH2O’s solution will use a catalyst-embedded nonporous material known as CNpM. The material can detect, sequester and remediate explosive materials in water.

“The biggest advantage our CNpM has over other technologies is the ability to destroy the explosives in water,” Foster said. “The most common treatment methods often rely on only removing the explosive from the water, but then you still have the explosives somewhere – either in a concentrated stream (membranes) or on the surface of the material (filter media).”

The approach is more cost-effective than existing methods, Foster said.

“The only method that can directly compete with destroying the explosives is a biological remediation pond, but these are very large investments,” she said. “Our technology will have a smaller footprint and price tag as compared to a biological remediation system. The CNpM will also require less of a capital investment than current solutions on the market.”

Over the next year, CatalyzeH2O will focus on optimizing its manufacturing process and the CNpM composite.

“Once these two factors are addressed, we will begin to pilot our composite on different water streams,” Foster said. “In tandem, we will begin laboratory studies on similar compounds often found in water in the industrial sector to be able to transition our composite into different industries.”