Figures suggest that 1/10 people around the world lack access to safe, clean water, and whilst the World Health Organization revealed progress on this front last year, there is still a long way to go.

So a recent project, led by researchers at Cardiff University and published in Science, is a crucial one.  The team, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, Lehigh University and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, developed a number of catalysts that produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on-demand via a simple, one-step process.

This opens up the potential for manufacturing the chemical in some of the poorest parts of the world, and therefore providing affordable water to huge numbers of people.

“Using our new catalyst, we’ve created a method of efficiently producing H2O2 on-demand in a quick, one-step process,” said co-author of the study Dr Simon Freakley from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

“Being able to produce H2O2 directly opens up a whole host of possibilities, most notably in the field of water purification where it would be indispensable to be able to produce the chemical on-site where safe and clean drinking water is at a premium.”

Circular water

It’s believed that over four million tonnes of H2O2 is produced by industry each year, albeit via a large and complex process that requires highly concetrated solutions of H2O2 to be managed before it’s diluted at the point of use.

In much of the world, centralised systems help to supply clean water to households, but there remain many households without access to such networks who therefore have to rely on decentralised systems for safe provision of water.

Traditionally, the process would require gold, which understandably made it very expensive.  The team have proved however that it can be achieved with five other metals, including tin and cobalt, that are much more widely available, thus making the whole process much more affordable.

Co-author of the study Professor Graham Hutchings said: “Our new catalyst shows that it is possible to achieve equally high utilisation of hydrogen to form hydrogen peroxide by replacing the gold in the catalysts with cheap readily available metals, therefore significantly reducing costs.

“Rather than replace the current industrial process, we envisage this catalyst being used where low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide are required. For example, we could see our catalyst being used in decentralised water purification systems in which the speedy, on-demand production of hydrogen peroxide would be essential.

“We are already in discussions with industry to see how this catalyst can be developed further.”

If you would like to contact the team, you can do so here.