Winning researchers find unique ways to recycle wastewater and increase crop pollination

“Chemistry can play a key role in finding practical solutions to urgent challenges” – juror in Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge

Ramia and Ankur main
Dr. Ramia Albakain, Associate Professor in the University of Jordan Department of Chemistry, won first prize in the in the Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge, and Dr. Ankur Patwardhan, Head of the Department of Biodiversity at Abasaheb Garware College in Pune, India, was awarded second prize.

A cost-effective wastewater solution in Jordan and a plan to enhance butterfly pollination of crops: those were the winning projects in the Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge.

Dr. Ramia Albakain of Jordan was awarded a first prize of €50,000 to for her “New green technique to remove toxic metal from wastewater” project, while the second prize of €25,000 went to Dr. Ankur Patwardhan of India for his proposal “Butterfly attractant for pollination and ecosystem health.”

Finalists presented their projects earlier this month at the 4th Green & Sustainable Chemistry Conference in Dresden, Germany.

Treating and recycling hospital wastewater

Dr. Ramia Albakain, Associate Professor in the University of Jordan Department of Chemistry, devised an alternative method for the treatment of hospital wastewater.

Jordan, as many countries in the region, is facing a major water shortage. This, combined with a massive influx of refugees from neighboring countries, has resulted in decreased water availability for the basic needs of the population, Dr. Albakain said.

As an Associate Professor in the University of Jordan Department of Chemistry and a recipient of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship, Dr. Albakain has focused her research on saving water quality using green methods. Her research on wastewater from hospitals aimed at identifying residual pharmaceuticals and heavy metals pollutants. This was followed by treating the wastewater, and then testing and reusing it for agricultural purposes. The commonly used conventional methods, such as chemical precipitation and ion-exchange, are costly and would often generate undesirable byproducts. Dr. Albakain researched an alternative path targeting “green nanofiltration membrane for hospital wastewater treatment.”

Limited funding posed serious constraints to her research, so she found an alternative low-cost method to prepare her starting materials and fabricate the green membrane. Finally, Dr. Albakain succeeded in developing a new membrane that could successfully collect the pharmaceutical residues and the heavy metals, and as such, hospitals will be able to recycle and purify the water with a high efficiency rate.

Dr. Albakain continued her innovative work by testing the treated water in agriculture on a small scale. Preliminary results seemed to confirm her hypothesis, and the treated water is being used to grow parsley – a key ingredient in traditional Jordanian cuisine.

“To me, being an analytical chemist is all about using my acquired scientific knowledge to solve societal challenges,” she said. “I am committed to implementing sustainable and innovative methods to solve such problems facing my country and the region at large.”

The butterfly laboratory

Dr. Patwardhan, Head of the Department of Biodiversity at Abasaheb Garware College in Pune, India, proposed a solution for increasing butterflies’ visits to flowers.

More than 75 percent of the world’s crops depend on animal pollination, and in the last 50 years, the volume of agricultural production that depends on animal pollination has tripled. Due to climate change, however, the number of insects is plummeting, with bees having declined by 46 percent over the past decade and butterflies by 53 percent, according to a 2017 study in Biological Conservation.

In an ecosystem, where every part is linked to the next, loss of insects and pollinators leads to the disappearance of plants, birds, mammals and fish, ultimately impacting the quality of human life.

Dr. Patwardhan, Head of the Department of Biodiversity Abasaheb Garware College in Pune, India, proposed a solution for increasing butterflies’ visits to flowers, enhancing pollination. His team is looking at studying preferred flowers’ colors and chemical cues from nature to develop a natural formulation to attract a larger number of endemic butterfly species to their most preferred flowering – ultimately creating what he affectionately calls the “Little India Butterfly Laboratory.”

“Science is about changing perspectives,” he said. “If you really want your research to be successful, hard sciences needs to pair up with social sciences, informing one another.”

He’s working with an established network of farmers, which will be involved in field trials – driving capacity-building at a community level. After all, he said, “the priority is serving the community, reaching out to the farmers who have supported the project from the beginning.”

Tackling pressing societal issues

“Both winning projects are especially relevant for local communities as they tackle (the) most pressing issues – and they have practical impact on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dr. Helmut Krist, environmental engineer and Program Director of the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and member of the Challenge’s scientific jury. “As the jury, we recognize the winners’ vital need for support, especially as chemistry researchers in developing countries, and we pledge to accompany them in their journey to successful implementation.”

Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit speaks at the 4th Green & Sustainable Chemistry Conference in Dresden, Germany.

In her speech at the award ceremony, Elsevier CEO Kumsal Bayazit commented:

There will be no sustainable development without chemistry. Chemists play a major role in developing medicines, fertilizers and other chemicals needed to tackle environmental and climate issues. This conference and all the expertise gathered here from across academia, government, nonprofits and industry offer important opportunities to work together, connect the dots and reinforce our commitment to green and sustainable chemistry, making progress towards the UN SDGs and safeguarding our planetary boundaries.

The Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge

Signing the Elsevier-Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 memorandum of understanding: Friedrich Barth (Managing Director of ISC3), Ylann Schemm (Director of the Elsevier Foundation) and Rob van Daalen (Senior Publisher for Chemistry at Elsevier).

The need for sustainable ideas to tackle global issues is more pressing than ever, and chemistry can play a key role in finding practical solutions to urgent challenges. To stimulate innovative chemistry research, the Elsevier Foundation has joined forces with Elsevier’s chemistry journals team and most recently the International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre (ISC3) to run the Elsevier Foundation-ISC3 Green & Sustainable Chemistry Challenge. This new partnership will help building a stronger community around the winners, providing far greater access to experts, knowledge, innovation and grants, complementing the existing network of strong academic focus to include key stakeholders such as industry and policymakers.

ISC3 joins the partnership by contributing new expertise, networks and a third prize for entrepreneurial spirit, which was awarded this year to Mario Alejandro Heredia Salgado for a project aiming to transform biomass from agricultural processes into thermal energy in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon. Heredia Salgado, a researcher at the Energy Systems and Climate Change doctoral program at Aveiro University in Portugal, received a cash prize of EUR €25,000 plus the onboarding and implantation support of the ISC3’s Global Start-up Service.

The Challenge is open to individuals and nonprofit organizations working to tackle environmental challenges in the developing world. The next call for proposals will open on July 1, 2019. Check the Elsevier Foundation website for more information.

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