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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Development and field testing of high performance aluminium oxide-based technologies for fluoride removal in the Ethiopian Rift Valley

PI: Feleke Beshah (Addis Ababa University)
U.S. Partner: David Sabatini (University of Oklahoma)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2015

 Ethiopia Partnership Picture 1
The Ethiopian research team at Addis Ababa University (Photo courtesy Dr. Beshah).

The available technologies used for removing fluoride from water such as reverse osmosis, activated alumina, and synthetic resins are difficult to implement in Ethiopia due to their high cost, the need for skilled manpower for system operation and maintenance, and the challenges of ensuring a continuous supply chain for the required chemicals and materials. Relatively simple and low-cost technologies such as the Nalgonda technique and bone char have been tried in Ethiopia, but they have proven inefficient under the prevailing water quality conditions. The objective of this study is to develop, characterize, and evaluate the effectiveness and sustainability of innovative high-capacity aluminum oxide-based materials, composite oxides, and impregnated high surface area adsorbent based technologies for fluoride removal in rural villages of Ethiopia. The project will also look at socioeconomic and entrepreneurial aspects to find ways to make the technologies sustainable in the Ethiopian context. Besides laboratory-based synthesis and characterization of adsorbents, the project will include preliminary field testing of the new materials, as well as assessment of socioeconomic and social entrepreneurship factors and presentation of findings in workshops and training sessions.
According to a recent estimate of the Ethiopian Ministry of Water and Energy, more than 11 million people in Ethiopia are at risk of high fluoride in drinking water in the Rift Valley region. More than 80% of children in the country suffer various degrees of dental fluorosis, and skeletal fluorosis is increasing among adults and the elderly. Thus, there is a pressing need for low-cost, high-capacity, and sustainable water treatment technologies for fluoride removal. For these technologies to be sustainable, they must be efficient, locally available, economically and socially viable, and simple to operate and maintain. While motivated by challenges in rural villages of Ethiopia, the results of this project will also benefit those living in rural communities of other East African countries impacted by fluoride. This project also has an important goal of capacity and human resource development for fluorosis mitigation in Ethiopia. The participation of the Ministry of Water Engineering and relevant NGOs will help to consolidate ties between research and implementation. The results will be disseminated to the scientific community through publications in reviewed journals, and a national workshop is planned to communicate the results to various stakeholders involved.
Summary of Recent Activities
The project team was bolstered with the addition of two PhD candidates and two master’s students as researchers. Work began along two main task lines. The first task focused on studying the structure of aluminum hydroxide and its adsorption qualities, as well as gauging the efficacy of a hybrid Nalgonda/aluminum hydroxide process for removing fluoride from drinking water. Experimentation has begun with water samples from the Rift Valley, as well as with drinking water at the household and community levels.
The second task was to run several screening adsorption experiments, using composite aluminum oxide-manganese oxide material, nano-scale aluminum oxide hydroxide, and other composite and amended oxides to compare how well they remove fluoride from water. Thus far, batch experiments have begun using these materials. One of the project’s PhD students, Meseret Desalegn, has developed his thesis proposal around this aspect of the study.
In the first quarter of 2014, the team plans to replicate the fluoride removal processes under different conditions, compare the results, and assess field applications in Ethiopia for these processes. The team also plans to travel to the U.S. partner’s lab at the University of Oklahoma in the summer of 2014 to undertake material characterization studies.
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