Photo: Teemu Leinonen

Mika Sillanpää: Solution for drinking water problems in developing countries

Mika Sillanpää is finding ways to purify water using light. An inexpensive and easy purification method would produce significant benefits in developing countries.

The chemical engineering laboratory at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Mikkeli is doing research which could improve the lives of millions of people in the future. Led by Professor Mika Sillanpää, the research group is developing more efficient and inexpensive water purification methods.

"They would bring particular benefits to poor people in areas where water is scarce," Sillanpää says.

One of the group's key research topics is photocatalytic purification, where impurities such as bacteria are removed from water using light.

The purification process requires, for example, titanium oxide as a catalyst. The aim is that, instead of UV lamps, the light source could be the sun in the future.

This means that water could be purified in a cheap plastic bucket lined with catalysts. In the bucket, water would be purified simply by being exposed to the sun.

"Such a purifier can be developed in a relatively short time."

Water has been an important topic for Sillanpää throughout his career. He studied chemistry at Helsinki University of Technology in Otaniemi and wrote his doctoral thesis on wastewater processing in forestry.

"We can do big things through the means of chemistry. That is why I find it so interesting," Sillanpää says.

In spring 2014, Sillanpää received the Tieteenkesyttäjä (Science Tamer) award granted by the Rector of the University of Helsinki. The researcher, who has studied water-related questions all over the world, was elected an evaluator of the UN Environmental Report in 2010. In the same year, he received the international Scope award for environmental sciences.

Text: Matti Remes