An efficient technique removes ammonia from agricultural wastewater

According to the World Health Organization, one in three people in the world does not have access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. These problems have only increased around the world due to the effects of climate change. Consequently, along with investment and operating costs, developing countries and vulnerable communities are the most affected by the negative effects of water scarcity.


“Water scarcity is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century,” said David Estrada, associate professor of materials science and engineering. “In our laboratory we are committed to finding solutions to problems, which do not take into account political, socio-economic or cultural boundaries. This new system can be adapted to meet the water remediation needs of communities of different sizes and economic backgrounds around the world. “

Boise State researchers from the College of Engineering teamed up with researchers from Drexel University and Idaho National Laboratory to study a simple and energy-efficient technique for removing ammonia from agricultural wastewater. The research is co-led by Estrada and Tedd Lister, a researcher on chemical separations in the energy and environmental science and technology direction of the Idaho National Laboratory. The group’s work was published in the Nature Partner Journal, Clean Water.

The research team used capacitive deionization, an emerging water treatment technique in which water flows between two oppositely charged electrodes. This technique polarizes the ionic impurities in the wastewater, causing the ions to be attracted and stored in the opposite electrodes.

“It takes about 20 times the amount of energy to synthesize ammonia from fossil fuels than it takes to recover ammonia using our approach,” Lister said. “Such industrial processes based on fossil fuels can generate up to four times the amount of carbon dioxide of the amount of synthesized ammonia, highlighting the importance of recycling our resources made using such energy-intensive techniques.”

The team looked at previous studies that explored carbon-based materials such as electrodes, however, these materials were limited in chemical diversity, surface chemistry, and surface-to-volume ratio, which limit the performance of the capacitive deionization technique. The team collaborated with Chris Schuck and Yury Gogotsi of Drexel University to study a new approach that uses MXenes, an inorganic compound composed of layers of nitrides, carbonitrides or metal carbides.

“MXene have a unique combination of properties that make them very attractive for electrochemical applications,” said Naqsh Mansoor, a Boise State graduate student at the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering and first author of the paper. “The fan-shaped structure of MXenes allows a lot of intercalation space so that the polluting ions removed can not only absorb on the surface but also insert themselves between the layers.”

The team’s research found a 100-fold improvement in deionization capability when using MXenes compared to activated carbon-based electrode systems. This resulted in more pollutant ions being extracted from the wastewater stream using less electrode material.

Reference: Mansoor NE, Diaz LA, Shuck CE, Gogotsi Y, Lister TE, Estrada D. Ammonia removal and recovery from wastewater simulated using Ti3C2Tx MXene in the capacitive deionization of the flow electrode. npj Clean water. 2022; 5 (1): 1-11. doi: 10.1038 / s41545-022-00164-3

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