This hydrogel tablet can purify a liter of water in just an hour

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have come up with a new way to quickly purify contaminated water. They designed a simple hydrogel tablet that can disinfect a liter of river water and make it drinkable in just an hour. The new approach could be important for the millions of people around the world who do not have access to safe drinking water.

Disinfection of municipal water using chemicals, such as chlorine (Cl2), chloramines (NH2Cl, NHCl2), chlorine dioxide (ClO2), ozone (O3), is currently used worldwide due to its efficiency and low cost. However, this process can lead to the formation of potentially toxic by-products, which can be detrimental to human health if proper filtering is not in place – this may not be the case in some low-income regions or countries. . Alternatively, heat treatments of water can also remove most contaminants through repeated boiling, but this requires a lot of energy and centralized infrastructure for large-scale distribution of clean water.

In search of other alternatives, a group of scientists have developed antibacterial hydrogels. These generate hydrogen peroxide which neutralizes bacteria with an efficiency rate of almost 100% by reacting with particles of activated carbon which disrupt the metabolism of bacteria. It does not need energy and does not create toxic byproducts.

“Our multifunctional hydrogel can make a big difference in alleviating the global water scarcity because it is easy to use, highly efficient and potentially scalable to mass production,” Guihua Yu, associate professor at the University from Texas to Austin and co-author of the new study, said in a statement.

The hydrogel tablet. Credit: The University of Texas at Austin.

Hydrogels are inexpensive, say the researchers, and they can be adapted for a wide range of applications. The synthesis process is very simple and the tablets can be manufactured using existing technology. Therefore, expanding their use would not be difficult and the range of microorganisms they could neutralize is changeable.

Credit: University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers are optimistic that hydrogels may also improve the solar distillation process – using sunlight to separate water from contaminants via vaporization. Hydrogels could prevent distillation systems from experiencing malfunctioning issues due to bacteria buildup on equipment.

Difficult access to drinking water

Drinking water has long been an international goal. Millions of deaths are reported each year in developing countries as a result of illnesses caused by drinking unsafe water containing pathogenic microorganisms. Global population growth and the ongoing pandemic have increased the challenge of access to safe drinking water.

Whether for home use, food production, drinking or recreation, clean water is very important for public health. Better access and better management of water resources can boost countries’ economic growth and reduce poverty. The United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the universal human right to water and sanitation in 2010.

Contaminated water is linked to the transmission of diseases such as polio, cholera, diarrhea, hepatitis A and dysentery. More than two billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with fecal matter, while around 785 million people lack basic drinking water service, of which 144 million depend on surface water .

Water supply systems could face other medium-term challenges due to climate change, population growth, demographic changes and urbanization. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), half of the world’s population will live in areas of high water stress. This will make wastewater reuse an important strategy.

The study was published in the journal Advanced materials.

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