Frank Gu’s research group is using nanotechnology to develop photocatalysts which harness solar energy to break down organic pollutants in water by efficiently and passively scrubbing wastewater of toxic materials. Once the water is cleaned, the photocatalyst is completely recovered from the water and can be reused continuously to create more clean water without producing any waste.
One challenge that his group aims to overcome using this technology is the large volumes of process water stored on site in Canada’s oil sands operations, which cannot be released because they contain dissolved naphthenic acids, which are byproducts from the oil extraction process. His lab is actively developing water treatment solutions to enable a green revolution for Canada’s oil sands.
Another challenging task is the treatment of toxic byproducts in mining, agricultural and power generating industries. Recent focus in water treatment research has shifted to selenium, due to its toxicity in aquatic environments at concentrations of a single part per billion. The Gu Lab looking to the nanoscale in order to design a reusable highly functional photocatalytic material capable of selectively removing Se to below parts per billion concentrations.