New water treatment wins Prestigious Award

Mar 15, 2024

Introducing a advancement in water treatment, developed by Cardiff University researchers in collaboration with Origin Aqua, the FreeOxTM technology has garnered acclaim by winning a prestigious challenge award at the World Water Tech Innovation Summit. This single-step process not only has the potential to substantially decrease chlorine usage in tap water but also addresses various issues associated with traditional chlorine treatment methods.

The FreeOxTM technology

Developed by Cardiff University researchers, in partnership with water filtration specialists Origin Aqua, the FreeOxTM technology reduces chlorine use by up to 80%, while oxidising synthetic chemicals, and killing chlorine resistant viruses and bacteria. The team says their technology overcomes a host of underlying drawbacks associated with chlorine including; resistant bugs, the potential for bad odour and taste, an embodied energy comparable to steel and the production of over 600 byproducts which can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Concentrated chlorine itself can be dangerous requiring careful transportation, handling and storage, causing a headache for water companies. In contrast, the FreeOxTM oxidation process and is more cost effective, sustainable and healthy. It uses three times less energy than today’s technologies while significantly reducing chlorine usage and neutralising chemicals such as synthetic hormones.

One of ten winners of the Water Discovery Challenge, run by Challenge Works and the Water Services Regulation Authority Ofwat with Arup and Isle Utilities, the project team will receive £500k to develop their technology for potable water treatment to the pilot stage.

Transforming water treatment

FreeOxTM replaces these stages of treatment with a single-step process using a catalyst made from gold and palladium in combination with hydrogen gas to effectively oxidise common contaminants without the use of chlorine. During this process hydrogen peroxide (a commonly used disinfectant usually produced on an industrial scale) is formed from the water itself – effectively using water to disinfect water.

The method, originally presented in Nature Catalysis in 2022, has since shown to be 10,000,000 times more effective at killing bacteria than an equivalent amount of industrial hydrogen peroxide, and over 100,000,000 times more effective than chlorination, under equivalent conditions. It is also more effective at killing the bacteria and viruses in a shorter space of time compared to other compounds or technologies such as UV or Zone. Andrew Cox, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Origin Aqua, said: “Unlike chlorine production, which is energy intensive, FreeOx can be generated at point-of-use, eliminating chemical dosing and reducing energy demand, while only creating water and oxygen byproducts – meaning there’s no chemical taste or smell; it represents the future of water treatment. We’re excited to be developing, upscaling and commercialising to test this game-changing technology, which holds the potential to transform water treatment in developed and developing countries alike.”

Advancements and future plans

Over the last 24 months, the team has completed a £380k Innovate UK project on bathing waters, increasing flowrates 300 fold. As part of the £500k Ofwat Breakthrough Challenge finalist award, the team have secured a pilot project to develop the technology for drinking water with a £100k loan from Trial Reservoir and supported by Welsh Water.

The team is now seeking industrial and technical investment partners to help upscale the technology to pilot trial stage. The team for the Water Discovery Challenge combined expertise from CEO Andrew Cox, Dr Jack Lee, and Dr Josh Stevens at Origin Aqua together with Professor Hutchings, Dr Jennifer Edwards and Dr Richard Lewis from Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry and Professor Jean-Yves Maillard of Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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