Lessons from Nature - Synthetic Humic Acid Materials for Improved Water Purification

EPA Grant Number: SU835311
Title: Lessons from Nature - Synthetic Humic Acid Materials for Improved Water Purification
Investigators: Webster, H. Francis , Burkhardt, Cindy A
Current Investigators: Webster, H. Francis , Burkhardt, Cindy A , Crook, Elizabeth , Ford, Maddie , Freeman, James , Godward, Dennis , Shelton, Jacob , Slate, Craig , Sublett, Matt , Webster, Rebekah
Institution: Radford University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2012 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $14,917
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Our project will focus on the development of an inexpensive, multi-functional adsorbent material that will improve existing sand filtration technology to better remove a wide range of water pollutants including arsenic, other heavy metals, and organic contaminants. The adsorbent is based on our recent discovery of a novel synthetic humic acid-like carbon material (sHAC) that is economical, easy to prepare, and based on renewable starting materials. The overarching goal of this project is to mimic humic acid found in nature, a natural polyelectrolyte that easily binds to minerals and serves as an excellent chelator of metals in the environment.


The work has three major objectives: (1) Synthesize and characterize a sHAC material with a heterogeneous but defined chemical structure using renewable starting materials including sugar and sugar alcohol sources. (2) Prepare three composite materials, including sHAC/sand, sHAC/iron-coated sand, and sHAC/magnetic iron nanoparticles (3) Investigate the potential of the composite materials to bind arsenic, heavy metals, and organic dyes.

Expected Results:

Composite materials will be prepared and characterized using a variety of chemical and surface analytical techniques. The adsorption of model contaminate materials will be evaluated using primarily batch methods with solutions of copper, lead, chromium, cadmium, and arsenic to evaluate adsorbent potential. Methylene blue will also be tested as a model dye contaminant. Adsorption as a function of pH will be evaluated to determine the optimum pH range and to better understand contaminant desorption. Simple column studies will be performed for promising adsorbent materials to evaluate their potential under flow conditions and the regeneration of the filter material will also be tested. Aspects of this project will be incorporated as novel experiments in the Physical Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry courses and will serve as an educational tool to promote the importance of green chemistry in pollution remediation. Students from a regional math and science governor’s school will also work with university students to generate ideas from this project for use in local, regional, and state science fair competitions.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water purification technologies, water treatment, water filtration, coated sand adsorbents, synthetic humic acid

Relevant Websites:

Phase 2 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report
  • P3 Phase II:

    Lessons from Nature - Synthetic Humic Acid Materials for Improved Water Purification