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Portable ANalyser for Detection of metal micropollutants in water

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Lab-on-a-chip technology opens up new era for water analysis

An innovative, portable water-quality monitoring device combines the accuracy of lab analysis with the delivery of results in real time.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Heavy metals are highly toxic, non-biodegradable chemical components. While they occur naturally, most environmental contamination and exposure results from human activities such as mining, industrial production and agriculture. “Drinking water remains the predominant source of human exposure,” notes PANDa project coordinator Clément Nanteuil, chief executive officer at Klearia in France. “This has resulted in stricter drinking water regulations and propelled the search for more rapid, sensitive analytical methods capable of efficiently detecting heavy metals even at trace levels.” Current lab-based monitoring methods however are often time-consuming and expensive. Turnaround times can range from a few weeks to a few months due to the need for transportation, pre-treatment and the processing of sample data. On the other hand, real-time on-site monitoring is not always reliable, and requires maintenance as well as skilled operators. And while low-end test kits are also commercially available, their analytical accuracy is generally low compared to lab-based analysis. “We saw that there was a clear need for better water-quality monitoring,” adds Nanteuil. “Existing laboratory-based methods are too slow for rapid responses, test kits are not sensitive enough for industrial use, while the cost, reliability and maintenance of on-site systems remain unsatisfactory.”

Reliable, accurate testing

To address these challenges, Klearia has developed PANDa, a portable device designed to detect toxic heavy metals and pollutants in water at ultra-low concentrations. “We recognised that there was a technological gap in which we could position ourselves,” explains Nanteuil. “We wanted to gather the benefits of the three current techniques into one solution.” The device enables users to reliably quantify metal micropollutants in real time, making immediate responses possible. Equipment calibration and cleaning between measurements are automated to avoid human error. “Quick, accurate water-quality monitoring is made possible thanks to our patented lab-on-a-chip,” says Nanteuil. “These are based on microfluidics technology. Trace micropollutants can be detected at extremely low concentrations, from as little as 1 part per billion. No technical knowledge is required to operate the analyser or interpret the results.”

New market potential

The next challenge for Klearia is to bring the innovation to market, which is where the PANDa project came in. Key objectives of this 6-month project included performing tests with end users and identifying market potential. Tests were conducted on water coming from a range of sites, including water suppliers, bottled water plants and contaminated soil. “Results were very positive,” notes Nanteuil. “Feedback was useful, because it underlined the need to test for up to 10 metals.” Discussions with end users also enabled the firm to improve parts of the automation system. “Talking to industry was also important because it is not always easy for businesses to accept there is an issue with pollution,” adds Nanteuil. “It will take time for some of our potential clients to realise the return on investment from more efficient water analysis. For this we need to carry out more case studies.” While the COVID-19 pandemic has frozen commercial activity for the time being, discussions with potential customers are ongoing. “We are also investigating other industries such as mining, soil regeneration, sanitation and aquaculture,” says Nanteuil. “Our technology could be used to detect other chemicals such as pesticides and drug residues. We are confident that our technology will become the next reference point in water monitoring.”

Keywords

PANDa, water, contamination, metals, toxic, mining, agriculture, bottled, microfluidics, micropollutants

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