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Nano water research in Brazil

Research in nanotechnology applied to water in Brazil1

One of the world’s biggest risks is the shortage of potable water for millions of people. Access to water is a socioeconomic problem because, even in areas where the resource is abundant, important poor sectors of the population have no access, or it is restricted; besides, in many cases water scarcity is related to overuse or private control of reserves by the agricultural or industrial sector. Access to water is also an administrative political problem, given the waste and leakages in the distribution and service facilities. Nevertheless, access to water is also a technical problem, as over-exploitation, as well as storage, purification and distribution systems depend on technical procedures that can be increasingly improved. This article reviews the research in nanotechnology applied to water in Brazil.

Guillermo Foladori

Sandra Maria Batista Silveira

Noela Invernizzi

Eduardo Robles Belmont

Research in nano-water in Brazil

Many universities and public and private research centers research on nanotechnologies in Brazil, and some do it on nano-water. The first plan of development of nanoscience and nanotechnology in Brazil (Multi-Year Plan 2004-2007) includes the program Desenvolvimento da Nanociencia e da Nanotecnologia (Development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology), which highlights the potential of nanotechnologies for environmental remediation (GT, 2003). Later, in the National Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2012-2015 the environmental issue is proposed as a purpose; and the development of sensors and systems for environmental monitoring and the treatment of effluents and waste are defined as priority areas (MCTI, 2012). In the following we summarize the main information available regarding research on nano-water.

  • Scientific Publications

The report of the research project NMP-DeLA funded by the European Union in its 7th Framework Programme (VVAA, 2013) identified between 2000 and 2013 360 scientific articles that were registered in the Web of Science and related to nanotechnology and water, with at least one author with residence in Brazil. Four universities, all from the State of Sao Paulo, were seat for 58% of the articles, which is not surprising, being the State with the biggest and best universities in the country. Only a university in the northeast region (Federal University of Ceará) was a significant seat for publications on nano-water, with 10 scientific articles in the period, although they represent only 2.8% of the total 360 about nano-water (VVAA, 2013).

  • Research projects on nano-water

The federal agency CNPq2,which is the most important source of funding for scientific research in Brazil, launched seven calls for research projects specifically on nanotechnology between 2006 and 2012, from which approximately 225 projects were funded. 11 of them (5% of the total) were on nano-water. Table 1 shows the different calls for projects, the total of projects funded and the ones related to nano-water, as well as the titles of the latter3.

From the title and abstracts of the projects we identified the potentially main application or function, distinguishing those researches directed to purifying water, desalination, remediation or monitoring.

Table 1. CNPq calls for research projects on nanotechnology and data for nano-water 2006-2012

CNq callFunded for Nanotechnology (all)Funded for Nano -waterProject title and potential application.
Purification = P
Desalinization = D
Remediation = R
Monitoring = O
Call MCTI/CNPq No. 16/2012-expansion and consolidation of national competences in nanotechnology / Young Researchers130
Call MCTI/CNPq No. 16/2012 - expansion and consolidation of national competences in nanotechnology / Senior Researchers 110
Call MCTI/CNPq No. 21/2011 - Support for the implementation of joint research projects, development and innovation in nanotechnology in the context of international cooperation Brazil-Mexico.91Unidentified title. R
Call MCTI/CNPq No. 17/2011. n/a1Creating a network of aquatic nanotoxicology in the central west region. O
Call MCTI/CNPq No. 74/2010 Formation of cooperative networks of research and development of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.171Processing and characterization of surfaces functionalized with antimicrobial nanoparticles for water treatment. P
Call MCT/CNPq No. 62/2008 - support for basic research in Nanosciences, preferably geared to foster innovation and promote technological applications/ Young Researchers1756 Development of Nanostructured Materials applied to Electro-catalysis of Oxygen Reduction Reaction for the purpose of Power Generation and Environmental Remediation (wastewater treatment). R
 TiO2 modification with Metals and Oxides for the development of Photo-Reactor Prototypes for Water Purification. R
 Adsorption processes and environmental catalysis for decontamination of textile wastewater: a comparative study between conventional treatments and systems with use of nanostructured materials. R
 Synthesis and structural studies of metal oxide-based nanostructured catalysts for the degradation of pollutant compounds. R
 Magnetic Material Development for Spilled Oil Removal in a Water Environment using Glycerin Generated in Biodiesel Production. R
 Development and application of advanced materials for the degradation of organic pollutants. R
42-2006 Call MCT/CNPq n. 42-2006 - National Nanotechnology Program - Young Researchersn/a2 Development of colloids of encapsulated magnetic nanoparticles to be applied for water decontamination. R
 Nano-sponges for environmental applications. R

Source: CNPq Results of Calls for Research and Curricula of researchers (lattes.cnpq.br); taken from (VVAA, 2013) and direct information from MCTI (Annex 2).

Note: Only calls for research specific to nanotechnology were considered. Only those projects whose title or description in the abstract related to nanotechnology applications in water were considered (Projects with multiple applications without explicit reference to nano-water were not included, for example: development of sensors with multiple applications, which could eventually be used in monitoring water pollution).

The Table shows that most projects (9 out of 11) relate to remediation of bodies or courses of water. It should be noted that other funded researches on nanomaterials, sensors, membranes, etcetera, of multiple uses, can be applied to water decontamination and production of potable water and not be registered in table 1.

  • CNPq research groups in nano-water

The NMP-DeLA project funded by the European Union conducted a search in the database of the CNPq about research groups on nanotechnology applications to water; the data were updated in May 2016 by the authors of this article. The following search terms were used: water + nano; nano + adsorption; nano + membranes; nano + photocatalysis; nano + bactericide; nano sensors + water; nano + desalination (Annex 1)4.

17 research groups active in the following areas were identified: desalination, water purification, environmental remediation and sensors/monitoring. Although some technologies can be used for more than one purpose (for example, membranes for environmental remediation or water purification), according to information released by the groups themselves, 12 of them prioritize some of these research areas, and five groups declare to be working in more than one area. If we take the different areas, which means that some groups participate more than once, as shown in Figure 1, widely prevalent in Brazil are the research groups engaged in environmental remediation (14 groups), especially for research on recovery of effluents contaminated by heavy metals and organic compounds. Three groups run research on water desalination, five on sensors and monitoring of water quality, and one on water purification.


Figure 1. Action areas of research groups in nano-water.  Source: own elaboration based on Annex 1.

In terms of its location in the country, 10 groups are located in the southeastern region of the country, which historically concentrates S&T activities; five are in the northeast region, one in the southern region, and one in the central-west region (Figure 2). No groups were identified in the northern region. It is interesting to note that from the three groups researching on water desalination, two are located in the Northeast which is a region endemically affected by droughts, but that has brackish groundwater as well as a long ocean coastline. Research on remediation of contaminated water, although mostly represented in the Southeast by eight research groups, is developed in several regions of the country.

Figure 2. Research Groups of CNPq by geographic region. Source: own elaboration based on Annex 1.

Finally, research on nano-water is developed in public research institutions. Only one research group is located at a private university, while 14 groups are based in state or federal public universities, and two in public research centers.


In recent years nanotechnologies have drawn attention for their potential application to different economic sectors, including water remediation, purification and desalination.

Research on nanotechnology and water in Brazil represents a marginal percentage in relation to studies performed in nanotechnology in the country. Research on nano-water is developed, except one case, in public institutions, and most are aimed at environmental remediation. Considering the large number of researchers in nanotechnology in Brazil, as well as the available infrastructure (Invernizzi, 2010), it is possible to think of public policies specifically aimed at expanding research on nano-water to purification and desalination. It should be noted, however, that there is no clear policy in the country in terms of risks to health and/or the environment of the nanoparticles used, which is essential for research in nano-water to be carried out in a sustainable manner. More detailed studies about ongoing researches may shed light on the extent to which they incorporate risk analysis in their research, something that was not detected in the abstracts of the research projects.


GT. (2003). Desenvolvimento da nanociência e da nanotecnologia. Proposta do Grupo de Trabalho criado pela Portaria MCT no 252 como subsídio ao Programa de Desenvolvimento da Nanociência e da Nanotecnologia do PPA 2004-2007. GT Nanotecnologia (Grupo de Trabalho em nanociência e nanotecnologia). Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia. Brasil. Retrieved from http://www.mct.gov.br/upd_blob/0002/2361.pdf

Invernizzi, N. (2010). Science Policy and Social Inclusion: Advances and Limits of Brazilian Nanotechnology Policy. In Yearbook of Nanotechnology in Society (Vol. Vol II: The Challenges of Equity, Equality and Development, pp. 291–307). New York: Springer.

MCTI. (2012). Estratégia Nacional de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação 2012 – 2015. Balanço das Atividades Estruturantes. 2011. Retrieved February 8, 2016, from http://www.mct.gov.br/upd_blob/0218/218981.pdf

VVAA. (2013). Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies deploymen in Latin American countries (No. Grant agreement No: 608740). 7th Framework Programme. European Union. Retrieved from http://www.nmpdela.eu/index.php/news/51-nmp-dela-deliverables


CNPq Research Groups in nano-water

Research groupDesalinationPurificationRemediationSensors and monitoringInstitutionLeader/
1. Biotechnology and Materials Science Applied to Mineral Technology and the EnvironmentEffluent treatment of mineral exploitation: sulfate, manganese and arsenic. Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria; Bioleaching of metal sulfidesFederal University of Ouro Preto (UFOP), Ouro Preto, MGVersiane Albis Leão; Anderson Dias
2. Plasma physics applied to new materials processesWater treatment by ozone technology for environmental purposesTechnological Institute of Aeronautics - ITA, São José dos Campos, SP
3. Photonic Nano-devices Architecture GroupSensors for detecting pollutants
One of the projects developed by the researcher refers to the development of nanosensors for detecting micropollutants in water and advanced treatment processes to remove them.
One of the research areas lists: development of sensors and dosimeters based on molecular nanotechnology to control and monitor the environment, in particular to monitor heavy metals in effluentsFederal University of Pernambuco, Recife, PEPetrus D Amorim Santa Cruz Oliveir
4. Laboratory of Mineral and Environmental Technology.Sorbent materials to remove contaminants; nanotechnology applied to treatment of water and effluents containing heavy metals and organic compoundsFederal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, RSJorge Rubio
5. RECAT- Reactors, Kinetics and Catalysis LaboratoryActive and selective catalysts for the removal of nitrates in contaminated water using the catalytic hydrogenation method.Fluminense Federal University (UFF), Rio de Janeiro RJFabio Barboza Passos; Rosenir Rita de Cassia Moreira da Silva
6. Electrochemistry and Nanotechnology Group Systems for purification of waste water with organic pollutants by heterogeneous photocatalysis using TiO2 porous film electrodes.Tiradentes University (UNIT) Aracajú, SEGiancarlo Richard Salazar Banda; Katlin Ivon Barrios Eguiluz
7. Research Group, Development and Innovation in Non-Metallic MineralsSynthesis and modification of zeolites and clays for treatment of inland waters in order to purify them for use in irrigation and human and animal consumption. Water desalination in the semi-arid region.Federal University of Ceará UFC, Fortaleza CELindomar Roberto Damasceno da Silva
8. Nanotechnology applied to agribusinessDevelopment and use of electrochemical sensors and biosensors for monitoring and evaluation of water quality.EMBRAPA, São Carlos, SPLuiz Henrique Capparelli Mattoso; Cauê Ribeiro de Oliveira
9. Advanced water treatmentMicrocytin removal from water for supply using a flotation unit system followed by nanofiltration membranesUniversity of São Paulo, USP, São Carlos, SPJosé Roberto Campos; Marco Antonio Penalva Reali
10. Research Group on Environmental Technologies of UFMSPolymeric membranes; nanofiltration; ultrafiltration for treatment of industrial effluentsFederal University of Mato Grosso do Sul (UFMS) Campo Grande MSCarlos Nobuyoshi Ide; Luiz Augusto Araujo do Val
11. Membrane Processes and Technology Effluent treatment using dialysis; nanofiltration; inverse osmosis; ultrafiltration.State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), Rio de Janeiro, RJRodrigo Azevedo dos Reis, Tel (02) 23340563 / 0159
12. GAMN-Analytical/Environmental Chemistry and Nanostructured Materials GroupNew materials based on silica gel, meso-porous silicas and organo-modified clays and selective nanomaterials for adsorption, separation, purification and recovery of organic components and metals from aqueous solutions State University of São Paulo Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP), Ilha Solteira, SPNewton Luiz Dias Filho; Devaney Ribeiro do Carmo
13. Physical Chemistry of materials Ceramic membranes based on SnO2 for applications in separation processes by nano and ultrafiltration, which exhibit saline retention capacity higher than 85% and can be used in water desalination.Ceramic membranes based on SnO2 for applications in separation processes by nano and ultrafiltrationState University of São Paulo Júlio de Mesquita Filho (UNESP), Araraquara, SPCelso Valentim Santilli; Sandra Helena Pulcinelli
14. Materials applied to biosystemsApplication of nanotechnologies for monitoring water quality and its decontaminationApplication of nanotechnologies for monitoring water quality and its decontaminationFederal University of Paraiba (UFPB), Joao Pessoa PBEliton Souto de Medeiros; Juliano Elvis de Oliveira
15. Study and development of processes for solutions to environmental problemsDesalination systems via inverse osmosis of small, medium and large size; desalination via inverse osmosis using photovoltaic panels; desalination via electro-dialysis; hybrid systems for water purification via inverse osmosis and ion exchange resins.Preparation and characterization of polymeric and ceramic membranes for the purpose of water and industrial effluent purification.Analysis, maintenance and remote monitoring.Federal University of Campina Grande (UFCG), Campina Grande, PBKepler Borges França
16. Bioprocess - bioremediation and phytoremediation of contaminated soilsEcotechnologies in the treatment of urban sewage and urban and industrial wastewater; Sorting processes using nanomaterials and advanced oxidation processes for the treatment of water supply, sewage and industrial effluents.Environmental Monitoring, Ecotoxicological Assessment and Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) State University of Rio de Janeiro - UERJMarcia Marques Gomes
17. Conductive Materials and Energy GroupThe study of electronic conductive materials originated a research line in biosensors for the health and environment sectors. From the experience in the chemical and electrochemical synthesis of nanoparticles came the collaboration in the nanostructures application project for water treatment in the nano environment sector. Federal University of Rio de Janeiro - UFRJAna Maria Rocco

Source: (VVAA, 2013 updated by 12/2015)


Research projects on nano water funded by the Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation) 2004-2012




Coordi-nator Univ. / Institute, etc. UF Call Total





Years Reme-diation Purifi-




Moni-toring Total
Total in Nano 463
Total Nano-water 4 2 0 1 07
97 Nano-sponges for environmental applications Flávia Cristina Camilo Moura UFOP/UFMG MG Call MCT/CNPq n. 42-2006 – National Program of Nanotec. Young Researchers5 49 250 2007… X
133 Development of colloids of encapsulated magnetic nanoparticles to be applied for water decontamination. Dr. Cauê Ribeiro de Oliveira UFSCar SP 42-2006 Call MCT/CNPq n. 42-2006 – National Program of Nanotechnology – Young Researchers 59 000 2006-2009 X
257 Use of nanostructured materials in advanced treatment (adsorption and environmental catalysis) of textile and petrochemical wastewater Rinaldo dos Santos Araújo IFCE CE Call MCT/CNPq n. 62-2008 – Young Researchers (Nanotechnology) Special Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 107 301 2009-2011   X
289 TiO2 modification with metals and oxides for the Development of Photo-Reactor Prototypes for Water Purification. Alberto Adriano Cavalheiro UEMS MS Call MCT/CNPq n. 62-2008 – Young Researchers (Nanotechnology) Special Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 119 234 2009-2011   X
418 Development and application of advanced materials for the degradation of organic pollutants Mauro Coelho dos Santos Federal University of ABC – UFABC SP Call MCT/CNPq n. 62-2008 – Young Researchers (Nanotechnology) Special Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology 90 4006  2008 – 2010 X
467 Processing and characterization of surfaces functionalized with antimicrobial nanoparticles for water treatment. Wilson Acchar UFRN, in partnership with other institutions and research centers: (UFSC, UNAERP, TMS-business, etc.) RN Call MCT/CNPq n. 74-2010 – Nanoscience and Nanotechnology7  323 280 2011-2012 X
493 Creating a network of aquatic nanotoxicology in the central west region. Cesar Koppe Grisolia UNb DF Call MCTI/CNPq17/20118  296 933 2012-2015 X

Source: Own elaboration from MCTI-unpublished document-


1Translated from Spanish by Magdalena Silva

2Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico. National Council of Technological and Scientific Development.

3Calls and titles of projects were translated to English.

4In all cases the term nanotechnology was also extensively used due to a defect in the database. The terms were searched in Portuguese.

5Call to support projects presented by young researchers to finance research and development activities in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Source: www.cnpq.br/web/guest/chamadas-publicas/Jsess

6The researcher’s curriculum lists the value of 76 000 real.

7Call for public selection of proposals to support the formation of cooperative research and development networks in nanosciences and nanotechnology.

8Support for the creation of cooperative research and development networks in nanosciences and nanotechnology and nano-instrumentation.


Guillermo Foladori Ph.D.

Academic Unit on Development Studies. Autonomous University of Zacatecas. E-mail: gfoladori@gmail.com

Sandra Maria Batista Silveira Ph.D.

Department of Social Work of the Federal University of Pernambuco

Noela Invernizzi Ph.D.

Post-graduate program in Public Policy. Federal University of Parana, Brazil.

Eduardo Robles Belmont Ph.D

Network Laboratory. Research Institute of Applied Mathematics and Systems. National Autonomous University of Mexico

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