Skip to main content

Top prize for game-changing technology with potential to transform water treatment in the UK and across the world

21 February 2024

Researcher tests water in a lab
The FreeOxTM team is now seeking industrial and technical investment partners to help upscale the technology to pilot trial stage

A single-step water treatment process, which has the potential to significantly reduce and perhaps one day replace the chlorine in tap water, has won a prestigious challenge award at the World Water Tech Innovation Summit.

Developed by Cardiff University researchers, in partnership with water filtration specialists Origin Aqua, the FreeOxTM technology reduces chlorine use by up to 80%, while oxidising synthetic chemicals, and killing chlorine resistant viruses and bacteria.

The team says their technology overcomes a host of underlying drawbacks associated with chlorine including; resistant bugs, the potential for bad odour and taste, an embodied energy comparable to steel and the production of over 600 byproducts which can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Concentrated chlorine itself can be dangerous requiring careful transportation, handling and storage, causing a headache for water companies.

In contrast, the FreeOxTM oxidation process and is more cost effective, sustainable and healthy. It uses three times less energy than today’s technologies while significantly reducing chlorine usage and neutralising chemicals such as synthetic hormones.

One of ten winners of the Water Discovery Challenge, run by the Ofwat Innovation Fund, in collaboration with Challenge Works, Arup and Isle Utilities, the project team will receive £450k to continue to develop their technology for potable water treatment to the pilot stage.

Chlorination is an energy intensive and outmoded water treatment process, which is ineffective against a wide and increasing number of human-made contaminants.

Professor Graham Hutchings Regius Professor of Chemistry

FreeOxTM replaces these stages of treatment with a single-step process using a catalyst made from gold and palladium in combination with hydrogen gas to effectively oxidise common contaminants without the use of chlorine.

During this process hydrogen peroxide (a commonly used disinfectant usually produced on an industrial scale) is formed from the water itself - effectively using water to disinfect water.

The method, originally presented in Nature Catalysis in 2022, has since shown to be 10,000,000 times more effective at killing bacteria than an equivalent amount of industrial hydrogen peroxide, and over 100,000,000 times more effective than chlorination, under equivalent conditions.

It is also more effective at killing the bacteria and viruses in a shorter space of time compared to other compounds or technologies such as UV or Zone.

A photograph of two men at an event
L-R: Andrew Cox, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Origin Aqua and Professor Graham Hutchings, Regius Professor of Chemistry at Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry

Andrew Cox, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Origin Aqua, said: “Unlike chlorine production, which is energy intensive, FreeOx can be generated at point-of-use, eliminating chemical dosing and reducing energy demand, while only creating water and oxygen byproducts – meaning there’s no chemical taste or smell; it represents the future of water treatment.

We’re excited to be developing, upscaling and commercialising to test this game-changing technology, which holds the potential to transform water treatment in developed and developing countries alike.

Andrew Cox

Over the last 24 months, the team has completed a £380k Innovate UK project on bathing waters, increasing flowrates 300 fold.

Alongside the £450k Water Discovery Challenge award, the team have also secured a pilot project to develop the technology for drinking water with a £100k loan from Trial Reservoir and supported by Welsh Water.

The team is now seeking industrial and technical investment partners to help upscale the technology to pilot trial stage.

The team for the Water Discovery Challenge combined expertise from CEO Andrew Cox, Dr Jack Lee, and Dr Josh Stevens at Origin Aqua together with Professor Hutchings, Dr Jennifer Edwards and Dr Richard Lewis from Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry and Professor Jean-Yves Maillard of Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Share this story

Our state-of-the-art catalysis facility supports world leading research in chemical sciences.