Bamboo biochar to treat arsenic-contaminated water

FAUBA scientists have created a bamboo biochar and filter device that can remove up to 100% of arsenic from contaminated water. The project promotes the production of bamboo and biochar in Misiones and aims to disseminate this technology in the affected areas.

"Guaduar, a project incubated at the Faculty of Agriculture (FAUBA) of the UBA, aims to filter water contaminated with arsenic. To achieve this, we work with the country's native bamboo species, Guadua chacoensis. We produce bamboo biochar from discarded reeds and chemically modify it to better absorb the element”says Andrea Vega, professor of general botany at FAUBA and director of the project.

According to the teacher, it is a rare plant that is grown in the country. In adulthood, the shoot reaches a diameter of 15 cm and a height of about 20 m. However, the most valuable to the project are those that die young, as they have no commercial value and produce the best bamboo biochar.

"It is a porous material whose surface is impregnated with iron nanoparticles that retain arsenic. The smaller the biochar particles, the more arsenic they retain. This property makes G. chacoensis ideal for cleaning contaminated water”explains Andrea.

Bamboo biochar, from the laboratory to the field

Vega points out that the development of bamboo biochar is carried out in the laboratory. “The results were published in the journals Total Environmental Science and Colloid and Interface Sciences and show that from 1 g of biochar we obtain 1 liter of safe water for human consumption. Although the WHO stipulates a maximum arsenic content of 0,01 mg/liter of water, we can eliminate up to 100% of this element".

Arsenic (As) contaminates groundwater and can cause HACRE disease. In Argentina, 6,4 million people do not have access to drinking water, and in at least 18 of 23 provinces, water levels for human consumption are much higher than WHO recommendations.

"Our goal now is to start production on a larger scale and test the bamboo biochar and the resulting Guaduar filter in real-life situations. We signed a contract with a producer from Misiones, who began growing bamboo and producing biochar in his fields. We believe that the production of this species could be important for the economy of the region. In addition to filtering the water with arsenic, will bring employment to many people”commented the teacher.

He added that to test the system in the field, FAUBA signed a tripartite agreement with the Buenos Aires municipality of Alberti and the Ministry of the Environment of the province of Buenos Aires.

"The next step will be to compare the bamboo biochar that we obtained in the laboratory with the one manufactured by the missionary entrepreneur. The idea is to see how each one works in the waters of Alberti, and see if it can be taken to a much larger, commercial scale."He said.

bamboo biochar

Start from a public university

For her part, Mónica Francés, general director of IncUBAgro, pointed out that “Through the FAUBA project incubator, we promote businesses related to the agricultural sector, accompanying different groups in the first step is consulting, support and training. We help them develop their businesses, model and find financial resources".

He added that they especially try to support startup groups when they have to comply with the conditions set by organizations such as SENASA or ANMAT. And it is also time to expand the scale of development or product to marketing scale. “In the case of Guaduar the interaction was very positive".

Finally, Andrea Vega highlighted the benefits of forming a multidisciplinary team. “TWe have different profiles, both in botany, agronomy and environmental sciences. There is even a graphic designer and two production engineers from the UBA. These rich ideas have allowed us to solve complex decontamination problems.".

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