Snow’s CAREER Award Could Lead to New Water Treatment Technology

May 11, 2021

Two women standing in labBATON ROUGE, LA – For the last few decades, LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, have been in common use in light bulbs and electronics. And more recently, researchers have made LEDs that can shine high-energy ultraviolet, or UV, rays, providing a new tool for water treatment technologies.

LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Samuel Snow takes this a step further by aiming to design the first smart UV LED systems using the new UV colors available with LEDs and their ability to pulse on and off quickly. This technology would offer numerous benefits to people across the world, from cheaper and better treatment of wastewater to new handheld devices that clean drinking water in remote places.

It’s all part of Snow’s project, “Accelerating Sustainable Water Treatment Using Smart Ultraviolet Light Emitting Diodes,” which just received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in the amount of $534,860.

“Most people will never notice when water treatment technologies improve, because it will only be a small change on water utility bills at the end of the day,” Snow said. “In effect, the technologies will make it cheaper to clean our drinking and wastewater before use or discharge. The advances do, however, provide opportunities for some new handheld technologies.

“There are already some personal-scale water treatment devices available for hikers and disaster relief which use UV technology. Our work should help us design better tools of this sort which make use of the LED advancements.”

How exactly would it do that? First, the new colors of light in the UV range will allow for more control of which types of chemical oxidants are produced using UV-driven advanced oxidation processes. Snow’s project seeks to find out what water and/or wastewater conditions will benefit the most from these new oxidant choices.

Second, the ability to pulse on and off LEDs instantly is promising, because other fields, including the food safety industry, found efficiency gains when applying pulsed irradiation for disinfection.

“We want to explore why these efficiency gains exist and whether they are important in water treatment,” Snow said. “We also think that by LED room lit upapplying pulses of light, we can use high-intensity pulses while keeping the LED cool enough to maintain better efficiency and long lifetimes.

“We believe we are some of the first…to look specifically at the pulsed application of UV LEDs in these research aims.”

Snow added that this research will engage local middle and high school students in scientific learning activities and send college students to developing countries to test new devices during study abroad trips while training graduate students to perform cutting-edge experiments.


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Contact: Joshua Duplechain

Director of Communications