The World’s Biggest Laboratory

Research cooperation between the Technion and Shantou University opens a wide and significant channel for Technion researchers and a great hope for China, which faces severe ecological challenges. A recent workshop at Technion presented the thriving cooperation in the field of recycling of materials and environmental protection which today unites the two universities

For decades, sewage has been polluting the Lijiang River, which crosses Guangdong Province. Contamination from millions of residents and thousands of businesses includes domestic sewage, residual electronic waste and solid waste from small textile factories. Prof. Jie Zhang, Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Shantou University, is worried, and is seeking solutions through the Technion-Shantou cooperation. “In the next few years, our government will invest about USD 4.5 billion in environmental protection, and the relationship with the Technion will help us make the most out of this great investment,” he said.

Relations between Technion and Shantou University, supported by the Leona and Harry Helmsley Foundation, have intensified since the founding of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (TGIT) in 2015. TGIT is currently under construction adjacent to Shantou University. The Technion’s role in the project is overseen by Prof. Paul Feigin, Assistant to the President for Strategic Projects. At the joint workshop held at the Technion Grand Water Research Institute, participants presented research proposals, advanced technology and cooperation in various environmental fields which included soil with air and water treatment and recycling of materials.

“This workshop is part of a strategic collaboration in which all parties benefit,” said Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie, who welcomed the participants. “China and Israel must take environmental protection seriously, he continued, highlighting the opportunity to bring about significant change in the area. This meeting between Israeli and Chinese researchers is the first step in a long and joint journey,” he said.

Use of Industrial Byproducts

Prof. Konstantin Kovler from the Technion Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who led the meeting, explained that one development presented at the workshop is a new method for the production of quality material for the construction industry, by recycling byproducts such as fly ash and phosphogypsum. “The method, which has been patented by the Technion, will enable the use of 95% of the phosphogypsum – a byproduct of fertilizer plants – for construction purposes, after the removal of radioactive and chemical pollutants,” he said.

Another development is the production of an absorbent material to absorb and remove fuel and oil from sites, such as the oil spill incident at the Evrona Nature Reserve in the Arava Desert, using recycled fly ash, (a byproduct from power plants.). Israel produces hundreds of thousands of tons of fly ash and China much more:  480 million tons per year. Israeli and Chinese researchers will work together to develop materials capable of absorbing organic pollution, heavy metals and radioactive metals.”

Prof. Ori Lahav, Head of the Technion Grand Water Research Institute (GWRI), also welcomes the opportunity to learn from the Chinese. “While Israel is a world leader in many areas, the partnership will enable us to jointly analyze data from a developing country. China is the biggest laboratory in the world, and there is no doubt that we have something to contribute to this huge country. To begin with, we will deal with river pollution, which comes from many sources, and we will offer effective solutions.” At the workshop, Prof. Lahav introduced a method for extracting magnesium from seawater – another Technion patent.

Group photo of conference participants from the Technion and Shantou University

“The World’s Best Water Technologies”

Prof. Eran Friedler from the Technion Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering foresees deep cooperation in water science and technology. “The Chinese government has begun the establishment of a water-smart city, which receives water from various sources,” he noted, “And we have the relevant knowledge and experience in the areas of water treatment, sewage recycling and river restoration.” In this context, a method for removing textile dyes from industrial effluents was presented. The method was developed by Dr. Yuri Gendel in cooperation with Shantou University.

Prof. Friedler and Dr. Haihong Sung, former postdoc and now faculty member at Shantou University, are researching options for the treatment and utilization of urban runoff. Dr. Haihong Sung said, “Our goal is to prepare properly for 2050, when China will have a population of 1.4 billion people, 80% of whom will live in cities. We are seeing an increase in the demand for recycled water for household use, and the contribution of the Technion researchers in this field is tremendous. I knew that the world’s best water technology comes from Israel. In fact, I was the first bridge in the cooperation between the Technion and Shantou University. It was a great honor for me to study here under the supervision of Prof. Friedler and Prof. Yael Dubowski, both of whom had a significant influence on the way I will pass on the knowledge and teach my students in China.”

Smoking in the Oncology Department

Prof. Yael Dubowski relates that one of the projects in the program focuses on the problem of smoking in China. The study focuses primarily on the tertiary level of “smoking” – health damage caused by exposure to pollutants from smoking adsorbed by objects such as clothing, sheets, mattresses and walls. The study will combine lab experiments carried out at the Technion and measurements taken in a hospital in China.  Prof. Dubowski said, “In China, smoking is acceptable everywhere, even in hospitals. There’s no awareness and no enforcement of non-smoking areas, but a demand for enforcement is being made by people, such as hospital nurses. They support the patients and are searching for ways to persuade their families not to smoke. It will not be easy for them to cope with this.”

Prof. Dubowski notes the great potential of the joint study. “I and Prof. David Broday, Head of the Technion Center of Excellence in Exposure Science and Environmental Health (TCEEH) have been working on building a scientific cooperation program regarding air pollution research in China. This is done with the support of the Leona and Harry Helmsley Foundation,” she says.

Certificates of Excellence

At the end of the workshop, three certificates of merit for outstanding studies were awarded. The three certificates were awarded, the first to Micol Campagnano, a graduate student at the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who is studying the fate of micropollutants in the process of converting solid organic waste into coal, under the supervision of Prof. Eran Friedler. The second went to Oz Kira, for his doctoral study under the supervision of Professors Yael Dubowski and Rafi Linker. This study monitors pesticide drift during spraying, in order to examine the effect of the substances on nearby residents. The third was awarded to Prof. Hong Du from the Department of Biology at Shantou University, for her work on environmental protection and ecological restoration of coastal waters and the reaction of algae to environmental stress.