Iron is a naturally occurring element that is abundant in our environment. Due to the research of a Texas A&M environmental chemist, supercharged iron, or ferrate, may prove to be key in not only purifying surfaces in health care settings, but in water that is contaminated.
Virender Sharma, professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, has spent the past 26 years researching ferrate, which can be used in both air and water purification as a disinfectant to aid in the inactivation of viruses, bacteria and toxins in a matter of minutes, without leaving behind harmful by-products.
The use of liquid ferrate shows great promise as a spray disinfectant that could be used in health care institutions, stopping the spread of such deadly infections as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile.
Sharma was recently granted a U.S. patent for his liquid ferrate technology, which solved the inherent issue related to stability of ferrate in solution form, and will soon be testing the commercial viability of the solution as a surface spray disinfectant for health care facilities. He is working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) program Innovation Corps (I-Corps), that helps scientists bring their discoveries out of the laboratory and toward the commercial market.
“Between 40 and 50 percent of MRSA and Clostridium difficile infections are related to improper cleaning of surfaces,” Sharma said. “We hope to drastically reduce these numbers by producing an environmentally friendly spray disinfectant.”
Previously, Sharma investigated the use of this environmentally friendly chemical compound as a water-treatment disinfectant to remove a wide range of contaminants—from antibiotics and estrogens to pesticides and toxic metals—from water.
“You just make a ‘tea bag’ out of the ferrate molecule and put it in contaminated water, and within a matter of minutes, the water is purified and can be consumed,” Sharma said.
This work can be used in a number of applications, and in fact, Sharma developed a prototype of a portable water-purifying device that can be used as a reliable source of purified drinking water for our U.S. military as they serve our nation in the field.
The world has taken notice of Sharma’s groundbreaking research, making him one of the most highly sought after speakers at numerous conferences on environmental science and technology. He has given invited presentations at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology; the Imperial College London; the Max Planck Institute of Germany, the University of Paris; the Hungarian Academy of Science; the Czech Republic Academy of Science; the National Autonomous University of Mexico; the National University of Singapore; the Tokyo Metropolitan University; the Kyoto University in Japan; the Pohang University of Science and Technology of South Korea; and the Chinese Academy of Science.
“Water pollution is a serious problem in China, so when I saw that Dr. Sharma did a lot of this kind of research, I really wanted to work with him,” said Long Chen, a Texas A&M public health doctoral student from China. “Ferrate is a very novel technology to treat water, and I’ve been learning so much in Dr. Sharma’s lab.”
Sharma recently served as guest editor of two highly ranked international journals, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering and Journal of Hazardous Materials. He has recently published his research in Accounts of Chemical Research and Chemical Society Reviews, which have impact factors of 22 and 33, respectively. Significantly, he is prolific in publishing his research with more than 240 peer-reviewed journal articles with several publications in Environmental Science & Technology, considered the top journal in the field of his area of research to clean the environment.
“I was following Dr. Sharma’s work through journals,” said Jashanpreet Singh, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow from India in Sharma’s lab. “I am honored to have the opportunity to work with him, and I have learned a lot here at Texas A&M.”
With the growing need for clean and sustainable water as well as the means to ensure safe and clean health care facilities, Sharma is even more committed to ferrate research than before.
“I feel like I am just getting started unlocking the potential of this remarkable element.”
Support Dr. Sharma’s research or other faculty in the School of Public Health by creating and endowed faculty chair through the Texas A&M Foundation.