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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 summer of 2014 was a productive time for Dr. Beshah and his team. Work 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 was progressed through the optimization of the synthesis of aluminiumoxyhydroxide, characterization, and screening adsorption tests. The team was also able to develop a water defluridation process using an aluminium hydroxide based absorbent and demonstrated its efficiency on a household scale. The team also made progress with the Nalgonda/aluminum hydroxide process and, with the collaboration of US Partner Jim Chamberlin and the Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Energy, was able to demonstrate its effectiveness at removing fluoride during multiple field tests in rural communities of the Ethiopian Rift valley where the Nalgonda Technique is being practiced. The results were also compared to other technologies and will be disseminated to all stakeholders during the workshop which is planned during the next year.

With regard to the second objective, Dr. Beshah was able to make substantial progress in determining materials that would efficiently remove fluoride from water during his exchange visit to the University of Oklahoma in August. He characterized 15 samples of natural zeolites and other alumino-silicate minerals collected from different regions of Ethiopia. Among these natural minerals, two were selected based on their fluoride adsorption performance. The team modified these natural materials with nano scale aluminium oxide based materials to enhance their fluoride adsorption capacity.

In the near future, Dr. Beshah and his team will continue to develop and field test their filtration technologies. The team is also planning to establish further collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) to further strengthen this research project. Under this plan, one of the PhD students (Meseret Desalegne) well be part of a research exchange to EAWAG to conduct experimental and theoretical work.
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