Responding to Pandemics: Integrating Zeolite with Ag-doped TiO2 to Coat Plastic Surfaces for Wastewater Purification Under Solar Illumination

By Claire Shi

The WHO’s utmost recommended protective measure against the pandemic is to wash hands frequently (World Health Organization). Yet, in many communities, people do not have access to clean water. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 63% of people in urban areas have difficulty accessing water services and cannot cleanse their hands. To combat the COVID-19 emergency, governments have put in place rapid response plans. However, most of these plans focus on immediate healthcare responses rather than improving household access to clean water.

For many countries, managing wastewater is a critical way to meet water demand. In African countries, however, only 10% of wastewater is treated. An increase in the reuse of wastewater would fortify the region’s water security, improving the country’s response to pandemics. For this proposal, I have developed a novel method of wastewater purification: integrating zeolite with Ag-doped TiO2 to coat plastic surfaces. A layer of this metal-doped photocatalyst would coat the inside of a large, clear plastic container, which would be distributed to regions that lack access to clean water during pandemics. By using this container, households would be able to sanitize their hands by reusing water used for bathing, washing clothes, etc.

Current means of wastewater treatment utilize large treatment plants that are energy-intensive, expensive, and use harsh chemicals. There is a critical need for a household-friendly, sustainable, safe, and low-cost wastewater treatment method. Titanium dioxide (TiO2), a photocatalyst, is used widely in many environmental applications due to its efficient photoactivity, high stability, low cost, and safety to the environment/humans. As a means of
destruction of chemical and microbial contaminants, TiO2 is insoluble in water and is not consumed in reactions. Therefore, coating the plastic surface of a water container with this compound would allow for the safe reuse of wastewater to sanitize hands during pandemics. Furthermore, when the right amount of energy (~400 nm) is supplied to the semi-conductor, TiO2, its electrons become mobile.

However, a disadvantage of using solely TiO2 is that it is activated by UV-light, which is not widely accessible for households. To overcome this, my proposal utilizes Ag-doped TiO2, which lowers the bandgap energy of TiO2 from 3.32 eV to 3.15 eV, allowing the photocatalyst to operate efficiently under solar illumination. The Ag would be incorporated by direct calcination of the sol-gel material. A study showed that the addition of Ag to TiO2 allowed for a more effective photocatalytic material (6-50% improvement in catalytic efficiency) and significantly increased the rate of degradation of rhodamine 6G (Seery et al.). In another study, metal-doped
TiO2 achieved a 99% degradation of methylene blue in only ten hours (Murugan et al.). Both rhodamine 6G and methylene blue are prominent water pollutants. Moreover, synthesizing Agdoped TiO2 with zeolite enables photocatalysts to maintain their inherent surface active site and,
as shown in a study, markedly improves TiO2’s efficiency at absorbing humic acid (Liu et al.). The coating of this doped photocatalyst and zeolite onto the plastic surface would be done through the sol-gel process, which incorporates titanium-isopropoxide, isopropanol, and hydrochloric acid (Tjugito).

Acting as a barrier to viruses, water is an indispensable weapon for responding to future pandemics. I firmly believe that hope during a pandemic begins with access to clean water. We can achieve this hope by reusing and treating wastewater with a plastic container coated with
zeolite and Ag-doped TiO2.

Works Cited

Ahamed, Maqusood, et al. “Ag-Doping Regulates the Cytotoxicity of TiO2 Nanoparticles via
Oxidative Stress in Human Cancer Cells.” Scientific Reports, vol. 7, no. 1, Dec. 2017,, 10.1038/s41598-017-17559-9.

“COVID-19: Solving Africa’s Water Crisis Is More Urgent than Ever.” World Bank Blogs, 30
Apr. 2020,

Jie, Li, et al. “TiO 2 Photocatalysis: A Historical Overview and Future Prospects Synergistic
Decolouration of Azo Dye by Pulsed Streamer Discharge Immobilized TiO 2
Photocatalysis.” Japanese Journal of Applied Physics,, 10.1143/JJAP.44.8269].

John Moma and Jeffrey Baloyi (November 5th 2018). Modified Titanium Dioxide for
Photocatalytic Applications, Photocatalysts – Applications and Attributes, Sher Bahadar
Khan and Kalsoom Akhtar, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.79374. Available

Khushbu Shah. “Flint and Other Places without Clean Water Are in Crisis during the
Pandemic.” Vox, Vox, 17 Apr. 2020,

Liu, Sanly, et al. “TiO2-coated Natural Zeolite: Rapid Humic Acid Adsorption and Effective
Photocatalytic Regeneration.” Chemical Engineering Science, vol. 105, Feb. 2014, pp.
46-52, doi:10.1016/j.ces.2013.10.041.

Murugan, K., et al. “Photo-Induced Monomer/Dimer Kinetics in Methylene Blue Degradation
over Doped and Phase Controlled Nano-TiO2 Films.” RSC Advances, vol. 6, no. 49, 2016,
pp. 43563–43573,!divAbstract,

“Panasonic Develops ‘Photocatalytic Water Purification Technology’ – Creating Drinkable
Water with Sunlight and Photocatalysts | Panasonic Key Technologies | Panasonic
Newsroom Global.” Panasonic Newsroom Global, 2014,

Seery, Michael K., et al. “Silver Doped Titanium Dioxide Nanomaterials for Enhanced Visible
Light Photocatalysis.” Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry, vol.
189, nos. 2-3, June 2007, pp. 258-63, doi:10.1016/j.jphotochem.2007.02.010

“Single-Step Synthesis of Silver-Doped Titanium Dioxide: Influence of Silver on Structural,
Textural, and Photocatalytic Properties.” Acs.Org, 2014,

Tjugito, Lavinia. “Deposition of Titanium Dioxide Coating on Plastic for Medical Purposes.”
The University of New South Wales

World Health Organization. When and How to Wash Your Hands. 2020,

Yaghoubi, Houman & Taghavinia, Nima & Alamdari, E.. (2010). Self cleaning TiO2 coating on
polycarbonate: Surface treatment, photocatalytic and nanomechanical properties. Surface
and Coatings Technology. 204. 1562-1568. 10.1016/j.surfcoat.2009.09.085.

About the author:

Diego Suchenski Loustaunau is a sophomore at South High Community School in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States. He is a member of his school’s Science Olympiad team, where he competes at the state level and in national invitationals. He is also on the math team where he competes regionally. His interests include protein biochemistry and computational modeling and he hopes to do research in those fields in the future.


Ryan Kim
Co-President, Harvard Tech Review

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: