Acquisition of Patent on Food Spoilage Detection and Water Remediation for Food Security and Water Purification by Researchers at CERD

Two different research collaboration efforts have yielded the acquisition of patencies by researchers at the CERD. The first patency was acquired based on the work titled – Biosynthesized Silver Nanoparticles as Biosensor for Timely Detection of Post-Harvest Deterioration of Fruit. The second research is titled – Method for Treatment of High Contaminated Water with Titanium Oxide Modified Natural Zeolitic Materials (BIOREMM). The first research effort, geared towards developing a cheap detector of food deterioration, was conducted by researchers from the Department of Microbiology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, involving Drs R. K. Omole and N. Torimiro; Department of Physical Sciences, Technical University, Ibadan, involving Dr. S. O. Alayande, and at the Centre for Energy Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, is Dr. E. Ajenifuja. The second patency, a simple and energy-efficient point-of-use material (BIOREMM) for remediation of water containing both biological and chemical contaminants, resulted from the collaboration of Dr. E. Ajenifuja and Prof J. A. Ajao, both at the Centre for Energy Research and Development, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and Prof E. O. B. Ajayi with the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

The first research that culminated in patency, targeted addressing a gap in meeting food security. The focus is a post-harvest technology to address humongous wastage that occurs in the food industry. The motivation for the research was hinged on examining the geometric rise in the current world population and global food security concerns. It recognizes that feeding a larger population will require much more than increased agricultural production through intensive and extensive farming, but also addressing food waste reduction is equally important. The researchers believed that reducing post-harvest losses of agricultural products is vital to increasing food availability and ensuring food security. Fruits get deteriorated during storage, causing huge monetary losses and severe health hazards. Effective detection methods available for deterioration are scarce and expensive, and fruit handlers are often unaware of deterioration in the early stage until the fruit exhibits visual symptoms which make them not saleable after the storage period. Diverse methods are available for the reduction of post-harvest spoilage, and despite their usefulness, there are still limitations. These methods usually require complex procedures, high cost of management, high energy consumption, and usually take time to be achieved; some even lead to the release of toxic products to the environment, and permanent loss of quality in the fruits. For instance, the discovery of the E-nose technology that seemed to serve as an alternative solution to the detection of spoilage came with its limitations as well. The obvious limitations of incorrect outputs have also reduced its general acceptability. Meanwhile, nanotechnology has emerged as front-line interdisciplinary technology capable of providing the required solution.

Image of the Biosensor in an experimental set-up to test its efficacy with the fruit in the glass jar and biosynthesized sensor in the bottle

For this patented work, nanoparticles were produced by the biological method. The issue with most of the physical and chemical methods for the synthesis of nanoparticles is that they are highly expensive and usually require the use of toxic and hazardous chemicals, which may cause potential biological and environmental risks. The present invention indicates a simple, cheap, and timely detection approach for monitoring fruit deterioration when it is not yet evident to the naked eye using a biosynthesized biosensor. The biosensor materials will cut down losses occurring from fruit deterioration, prevent environmental pollution, and reduce the severity of the health hazards caused by fruit spoilage through on-spot monitoring.

The second patency was geared towards water purification. The research took cognizance of water pollution caused by toxic metals, biological materials, and natural organic matter remains an important environmental problem in Africa. For instance, the Niger Delta region is widely known to be highly polluted mainly due to oil spillage and exploration. Whereas, in other parts, contamination of ground and surface waters with heavy ions leachate is largely from industries and urban dumpsites, and this is also a major concern. Based on studies, both carbon nanotubes (CNT) and polymer-based membranes are widely known to possess good water purification properties. However, most CNT and polymer-based membranes are expensive, especially for large-scale uses. Notably, preparing a photocatalytic ceramic membrane on natural aluminosilicate support greatly lowers the production cost and energy requirements. It will also increase efficiency, durability and encourage the production of membrane module units for point-of-use purification. Several techniques for water remediation have been proposed including chemical precipitation, membrane filtration, ion exchange, coagulation, electrocoagulation, and adsorption.

Meanwhile, adsorption is considered a reliable process that can be used to remediate a mixture of contaminants with low concentrations, and naturally occurring minerals have been prepared as adsorbents. Whereas, synthetic materials appear to be particularly competitive and effective for the removal of heavy metals at trace levels. Synthetic adsorbents are considered inapt for developing countries because of their high manufacturing cost. The research prepared photocatalytic water remediation ceramic membranes from natural and abundant aluminosilicate minerals, which provides a cheap and energy-efficient solution to the water and environmental pollution challenges in Africa. With the added value of being inexpensive and readily available, natural clay aluminosilicate materials possess a unique combination of physical and chemical properties which makes them suitable for a wide range of industrial applications. The patency was on a developed method for preparing a functional material. The outcome of the effort was to prepare simple and energy-efficient point-of-use material (BIOREMM) for the remediation of water containing both biological and chemical contaminants. The following images show the BIOREMM.

Image 1: Surface morphology for a BIOREMM ceramic membrane

Image 2: Test module set-up for the BIOREMM ceramic membranes

Image 3: Conductivity test of some water samples remediated using a BIOREMM membrane

Prepared by Dr. E. Ajenifuja, Division of Materials and Electronics., Centre for Energy Research and Development, OAU, Ile-Ife.

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