Within the process of industrial oil refinement, a byproduct of petroleum extraction and refinery is generation of "produced water," of which 2.5 billion gallons are produced every day. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, produced water is a challenge to handle in any useful capacity, as its contamination leaves it a danger to household or commercial use. Decontamination measures often prove expensive and not wholly effective — but according to a press release by the Purdue News Service, University researchers have a developed a purification process that removes all traces of petroleum from produced water.

The process, presented by researchers last month at the annual Conference for the Produced Water Society, involves subjecting activated charcoal foam to solar light in order produce enough heat to absorb petroleum contaminants. In addition to purifying the water, up to 95% of absorbed oil may be recovered from the charcoal.

Far from being merely an industrial purification process, the social implications of clean water were also discussed during the conference. In reference to the lack of availability of clean water worldwide, Ashreet Mishra, a graduate research assistant at the Purdue University Northwest Water Institute said "I have seen in my home country of India how people suffer for the want of pure water, and we, as researchers, need to do as much as we can to help."

In addition, the process is designed to be easily incorporated into currently-existing industrial purification systems, with the hope that its relative simplicity will allow for energy-efficient implementation of produced water purification.

"This is the first-of-its kind method to do this purification in a single step simultaneously via a perforated foam," Mishra said in the press release. "Our process is able to address the cost and energy aspects of the problem."

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