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Heavy metal ion and radioactive element extraction from water developed by an Estonian research group

Country of Origin: Estonia
Reference Number: TOEE20171024001
Publication Date: 6 November 2017


An Estonian research group is looking for partners to pilot a patented filter for extracting heavy metal ions and radioactive elements from water. Contaminated water is an acute problem across the world, and currently no efficient technologies exist to efficiently remove multiple heavy metal ions and radioactive elements or radionucleids with one method. The proposed technology is cost efficient, nanomaterial based, causes minimal waste, and is adaptable to any piping system.


Clean water is a necessity, yet according to WHO, 844 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. The major culprit for water-related health problems are heavy metals, which may cause nausea, hyperpigmentation, sterility, cancer and even death. The second large problem is radioactive elements found in water.

In 2008, Goldman Sach’s estimated the water purification market to be €425 Billion with a long-term growth of 4-6% pa. However, there are no cost effective and efficient methods to extract heavy metal ions from drinking water today. Also, methods that exist for the removal of radioactive elements from water have multiple drawbacks.

Reverse osmosis is the most efficient approach to extract heavy metal ions, but the major disadvantage is waste: only ¼ of the water is filtered due to the high back pressure. Secondly, reverse osmosis also removes essential elements such as Ca, Mg and K, and it is a costly technology to use.

An Estonian SME and R&D joint venture has patented a filter composed of sand coated with nanomaterials, capable of extracting heavy metal ions and radioactive elements from water. The technology has a high yield, removing up to 99,9% of lead (one of the most dangerous of heavy metal ions in water), and at least 80% of uranium. At the same time, technology does not change the water’s mineral content.

The filter works best with drinking water with pH ranging from 6-9, and it can be adapted to any type of piping system. Hence, it could be used by home users, drinking water providers, bottled water producers, or in nuclear power plants to purify their cooling water, mining exploitation, and in oil shale and oil sand extraction. The method is estimated to be significantly more cost effective than other solutions on the market.

The active materials are recyclable: the extracted metals can be collected using temperature gradient, and radioactive elements can be vitrified if considering long term storage, or recovered by metallurgical processes as in the case of extracted heavy metal ions. The whole process promotes circular economy.

The research group is looking for industrial partners to pilot their technology. The partner could be a drinking water provider, bottled water producer, water filter company or company working with cleaning water of nuclear waste. Partnership with companies that can either produce the filters on a large scale, or that could assist the research group with commercialization, is also looked for.

Advantages and Innovations

Currently there is no single method available to remove all heavy metals from water. Also, there are no efficient technologies to extract radioactive elements. The proposed technology gives a high yield in removal of both – heavy metal ions as well as radioactive elements.

The technology is cost-effective and causes minimal waste. According to the evaluation carried out by the research group, the cost of purifying the water would, for example, be 0,02 cents per litre in India. However this will be all the more cost-effective when produced at an industrial scale.

There is minimal water waste, as all the water passing through the filter would be cleaned. The filter also enables recycling the metal filtered out, and the radioactive elements removed can be safely storaged.

The water filter can be adaptable to any type of piping system, and it has a large range of possible uses, from home use and industrial water production, to nuclear power plants.

Stage Of Development

Prototype available for demonstration

Requested partner

The joint venture is seeking for industrial partners in water purification, to run pilot tests of their filters. The partner could be one of the following:
- Drinking water providers,
- Bottled water producers,
- Mining and oil shale sector,
- Water filter manufacturers,
- Companies working in removing nuclear waste from water (nuclear plants or organisations working with nuclear waste in the environment)

The group is also looking for partners for large-scale manufacturing and/or commercialisation of their filters.

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