Barley straw shows potential as waterway decontaminant

Photo: Debra Murphy, 2017

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are finding promise in using pre-treated barley straw as an adsorptive material for certain types of antibiotics.

The barley straw was subjected to chemical impregnation (phosphoric acid) and microwave heating. Using the Canadian Light Source, the researchers were able to study how the pre-treated barley straw reacted to exposure to norfloxacin, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic commonly used to treat bladder infections.

Following pre-treatment, the barley straw showed increased adsorption qualities for the antibiotic.

Jian Wang, SM beamline scientist at Canadian Light Source; Catherine Hui Niu, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan; Bei Yan, member of Niu’s research team.

The researchers’ work is all still in early stages. Catherine Hui Niu, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, explained via email that the next steps, depending on the availability of funding, would see:

  1. The pretreated barley straw applied to extensive pharmaceutical pollutants, antibiotics, and other industrial organic pollutants.
  2. Adsorbents developed from additional agricultural byproducts such as oat hulls, flax shives, canola meal, etc. for water treatment.
  3. Applications of the adsorbents based on the agricultural or related industry are to extend to gas phase purification for fuel and other industrial gas production, and carbon capture.

Pharmaceuticals, especially antibiotics, are increasingly finding their ways into the environment, creating worries over human and ecosystem health. The ability for large-scale cleanup through something like this could not only provide a market for agricultural byproducts, but also make a difference in the health of our waterways.

Niu’s team’s work has been published in ScienceDirect’s Chemical Engineering Journal.


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