It may be more readily associated with hair styling, but researchers are now working on a gel that can remove micropollutants from drinking water and potentially save pharmaceutical organisations money.

A Glasgow Caledonian University team led by Dr Kate McAulay will use electrochemistry to create the gel, enabling it to remove metals and contaminates from the water.

It is hoped the year-long study will provide a new way of cleaning water and provide a new route for pharmaceuticals to be further recycled.

Dr McAulay said: “Clean water is essential for the planet and new ways of cleaning water and removing contaminates is super important.

“My background is in the development of gels and I felt that due to the ability to manipulate a gel’s structure, it would make an ideal trap for micropollutants in water.

“One such pollutant is pharmaceutical waste that has passed through the human body and the sewage system. If we can recover enough of this from the water, my hope is that there is potential to give this back to pharmaceutical companies for recycling and re-use, which, in turn, means they have to synthesise less new drugs.”

Kate hopes that if the project proves successful, the gel could become a marketable product.

“If the concept did prove to work it would get passed on to chemical engineers to scale up. Then it has the potential of being used by water-treatment companies to treat large-scale or small-scale volumes of water. It even has the potential to be a portable technique, too. So, if there was a low scale spill, you could maybe use this.”

Assisting Dr McAulay is Dr Emily Cross of Queens University Belfast and they are hoping to engage a wide range of collaborators in the UK and overseas.

The project has been funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry and VisNET – an EPSRC-funded project to address gender imbalance in STEMM subjects with a focus on networking.