Photo of Daniel Obregón

Nanotechnology & materials

Daniel Obregón

Using local natural residue as feedstock to purify water

Year Honored

Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

Latin America

Hails From

Mining and the lack of purifying processes for fecal waters, among other activities, pollute the bodies of waters destined for human consumption. In Peru, the poor condition of the water that is used by the general population has become an authentic public health issue. In one of the regions of this Andean country, 99% of the water used by its population is contaminated. Among the waterborne illnesses we find cholera, typhoid fever, polio, diarrhea and dysentery, just to name a few.

According to Oxfam Intermón, worldwide, 1.5 million children die each year due to polluted water consumption. Aware of the true extent of the problem that water pollution posses in his country, the Peruvian chemist, Daniel Obregón, has developed a method that allows the seed of a local Amazonian plant to be used as an effective water filter.

The primary focus of the project is to turn these seeds into a type of activated carbon, a material that is commonly used as a filter to purify water. This way, aside from improving the condition of Peruvian water bodies, Obregon's idea contributes to the strengthening of circular and local economy in the country. Thanks to the potential seen in this technological advance, the young chemist has been chosen as one of the winners of the Latin American Innovators under 35 from the MIT Technology Review LATAM edition.

The Mauritia Flexuosa commonly known in Peru as “aguaje” is a type of palm tree with a very nutritious fruit. Also, the fibers of its tree trunk and its leaves are usually used to manufacture diverse objects. Now Obregón has discovered that the aguaje can also be used to purify water once it has been transformed into activated carbon. Compared to other materials and processes, procuring activated carbon from aguaje needs less energy and chemicals products. Once the seed is subjected to Obregon ́s patented process, the activated carbon filters are even capable of filtering heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury.

Currently, Daniel Obregón's project is on pilot run in the laboratory, but since there is no activated carbon production industry in Peru, Obregón believes there is great potential for the creation of diverse employment opportunities in Peru by reusing the residues of this local crop that has an increasing production. The shell of the aguaje seed represents almost 80% of the total weight of the fruit and for the time being, is considered waste. But thanks to this young chemist's innovation, it could now be used to improve water quality all over Perú.

The Lead of the Technical Management for Innovation within “Alma Consulting Group”, Spain, Alfredo Colombano, member of the jury for the 2019 Latin American Innovators Under 35, considers the use of this material and the fact that this idea can boost the activated carbon industry as a method for water purification as ground breaking and highly promising .