June 22, 2022

Shelmith Theuri

“The electrosynthesis of ferrate-friendly green oxidants enables cheap and easy water treatment anywhere”

Shelmith Theuri, an Erkki Paasikivi Foundation grant recipient, is developing the use of electrical oxidation methods and electrosynthesis in water treatment. The new technology aims at local, easy and inexpensive water treatment in, for example, crisis areas.

For Shelmith Theuri, water technology research was not always an obvious career choice. However, during her master’s degree in environmental technology, Theuri became interested in water technology as she explored the low-income areas of her native Kenya, where few have access to clean drinking water.

“I wasn’t interested in water technology when I was young. I started studying environmental technology, and while doing my master's studies in Belgium, I decided to focus on water technology, ”says Theuri.

“Only three percent of the world’s water is fresh water and it is not evenly distributed around the world. For example, in Finland there is enough fresh water for everyone, but in countries like Kenya there is a shortage of it. With the right technologies, drinking water in remote or deprived areas can be treated from wastewater and people can have access to clean drinking water. ”

After her master's studies, Theuri moved to Finland to complete his postgraduate studies at LUT University. She is currently writing his dissertation as part of a research group at the Department of Materials Science and Environmental Engineering, University of Tampere. The grant received from the Erkki Paasikivi Foundation in 2021 has enabled Theuri to carry out a study on electro-synthesis.

Glass of water

Water Treatment Locally, Easily and Cheaply

The electrochemical technologies studied by Theuri are a promising and efficient alternative to water treatment because they can eliminate the chemical supply chain associated with conventional treatment options by producing chemicals on site and as needed.

“Toxic substances are produced as a by-product in the production of many oxidants used in water treatment. The ferrites used in my research are more environmentally friendly as oxidants and do not produce harmful substances in water treatment. ”

The technology researched by Theuri enables decentralized and local water treatment in remote areas. The process is cost-effective compared to traditional methods, as there is no need to build a centralized water supply system. Drinking water does not have to be treated elsewhere first and then moved to the site, but the whole process takes place where drinking water is needed.

“Traditional drinking water treatment methods are not cost-effective in remote areas without a water distribution system. The treatment of drinking water requires chemicals, which costs a lot to transport to the areas. The method of electrosynthesis is easier, cheaper and allows water purification without chemicals. The treatment system is easy and quick to build on site and put into use when needed. ”

The possibilities for water treatment by means of electrosynthesis are not limited to remote and low-income areas. Theuri’s research work is motivated by a desire to help vulnerable people and enable access to clean drinking water in places where it has been most difficult.

“People in crisis areas, wars and other emergencies do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. Decentralized and local water treatment enables the distribution of drinking water to people who have not previously had access to clean drinking water.”

Shelmith Theuri

Attitudes Change More Slowly than Technology

Theuri has a positive outlook for water technology research and innovation and sees the research as socially significant. New technological innovations to purify potable water and enable the circular economy have made significant progress in recent years, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Wastewater is so far an underutilized resource, as most of the world’s wastewater is not treated. In my country, Kenya, for example, 80% of wastewater is not treated as drinking water. The unequal distribution of potable water can be solved by using new technologies to make even more wastewater treatable. ”

Alongside technological developments, according to Theuri, there is a need to update attitudes and beliefs about water.

“Recycling and reuse of wastewater is still seen as dubious and people’s attitudes and perceptions of wastewater change slowly. The circular economy of water is widely accepted by researchers and its importance is understood. At the societal level, there is still stigma involved in reusing wastewater, and work is still needed to change attitudes. ”

The article series Stories of Water Technology Research presents the work of researchers funded by the KAUTE Foundation and the Erkki Paasikivi Foundation. Grants are awarded in particular for dissertation and postdoctoral research in the field. The foundations also encourage other organizations working in the field of water technology to co-operate in the field of grant applications.