Icy solutions to treating mine-impacted water

By reducing the need for infrastructure and chemical reagents, Daria’s project can minimize the cost of industrial footprints and create a more innovative solution to reduce water contamination.

Water contamination adversely affects the lives of two billion people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, half of the world’s population will struggle with water scarcity by 2025, with 785  million people currently lacking basic access to clean drinking water. However, the demand for consumer products requires mining, which can lead to water contaminants that affect aquatic wildlife, vegetation, and humans.

With an increasing need for clean water, Mitacs intern Daria Popugaeva, PhD, works towards a more efficient and cost effective solution to treat mine-impacted water with the use of freezing technologies. In collaboration with industry partner Core Geoscience Services Inc. and Western University, Daria integrates her academic knowledge and business skills to create an innovative solution for a cleaner environment.

As a leading member in scientific development, Core Geoscience Services Inc. is a Yukon-based company providing environmental and regulatory support and mine services. Working with the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Western University, Daria is supervised by Professor Ajay K. Ray and Adjunct Research Professor Konstantin Kreyman.

Ice as a Better Solution

Daria’s work aims to develop a mathematical model to optimize ice-based water purification through the process of freeze separation of contaminants from mine-impacted water.

Traditionally, many water treatment procedures involve the use of chemical and physicochemical methods that produce secondary pollution and require costly resources to deploy. The freeze separation process will eliminate the need for these resources by suspending the purified water through a buildup of ice during crystallization, which will naturally separate the contaminants from the aqueous solution.

In addition, freezing technologies require seven times less energy than traditional evaporation methods, making them a potentially environmentally friendly and highly cost-effective process especially within polar regions, such as the Yukon.

“This project focuses on mine-impacted water treatment, but it could also be beneficial to Indigenous communities whose waterways are in the cold climates and have been polluted. The main advantage of the project is that it can be applied to different types of water and the northern climates’ cold temperature conditions can be capitalized on,” says Daria.

By reducing the need for infrastructure and chemical reagents, Daria’s project can minimize the cost of industrial footprints and create a more innovative solution to reduce water contamination. Through her research, future scientists can further remediation techniques with different contaminants.

An Intern’s Journey

Like many PhD graduates, Daria faced obstacles finding a job after her academic career. But through this internship, she gained valuable professional skills that gave her an edge in a highly competitive job market.

“There’s a gap between academia and industry and Mitacs helps you bridge that gap by participating in an industrial job,” she says. “The organization really helps you find the right projects. The synchronization of academia and industry through the internship provides a valuable experience to both sides.”

As an Accelerate intern, Daria was able to integrate her academic skills into an industrial position, and to continue the research started during her PhD studies.

“I feel very fortunate that I can learn more and apply my existing knowledge and skills to the job. During my PhD, my project was dedicated to the water treatment of metal contaminants, so this internship is a good connection between the two. The guidance through all the stages of the project and significant support provided by Western University, my supervisors, Professor Ajay K. Ray and Adjunct Research Professor Konstantin Kreyman, and colleagues from Core Geoscience Services Inc. make my Mitacs experience invaluable,” says Daria.

According to Statistics Canada, graduates from internship programs report higher employment rates and a better job-education match than their non-participating counterparts. Additionally, around 75 percent of work-integrated graduates earn significantly more than non-participants. From her positive experience as a Mitacs intern, Daria highly recommends the internship to the next generation of future scientists. 

“Mitacs is a great organization for students that are just finishing their studies, it helps you build professional skills and helps you develop in the industry. One piece of advice I’d give to my younger self is to look into Mitacs opportunities and take full advantage of it.”

Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, The Government of British Colombia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan.

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Mitacs empowers Canadian innovation through effective partnerships that deliver solutions to our most pressing problems. By driving economic growth and productivity, we create meaningful change to improve quality of life for all Canadians.