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

EPA Grant Number: SU835545
Title: Lessons from Nature - Synthetic Humic Acid Materials for Improved Water Purification
Investigators: Ford, Maddie , Burkhardt, Cindy A , Godward, Dennis , Webster, Francis , Sublett, Matt , Webster, Rebekah
Institution: Radford University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: II
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $89,975
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Chemical Safety , P3 Challenge Area - Safe and Sustainable Water Resources , P3 Awards , Sustainable and Healthy Communities


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.


Results from Phase I showed that an effective sHAC coated sand, goethite/sHAC coated sand and magnetite/sHAC composite adsorbent for metals, a cationic dye, and arsenic could be synthesized from various simple sugars. Our challenge in Phase II is to investigate whether the technology can be scaled up to produce the larger adsorbent quantities needed to make an impact on pollution reduction and to test our adsorbent material under more “real world” conditions.

Expected Results:

Composite adsorbent materials will be prepared with technology to increase the batch production size using a continuous flow reactor for production of sHAC material. The sand coating process will be optimized to produce kilogram amounts and sHAC/magnetite synthesis to the one hundred gram quantities needed for larger scale filtration projects. Adsorbents will be tested under realistic environmental conditions where the contaminant level is much lower and the water has a more representative water chemistry. This will be done through (a) the development and automation of the rapid small scale column test (RSSCT) system, (b) the use of naturally contaminated waters, and (c) partnership with an industry having expertise in the testing of adsorbent materials on the larger scale needed for pollutant remediation in natural environments.

Supplemental Keywords:

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

Relevant Websites:

Phase 1 Abstract

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2014
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

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