Hydrogel tablet makes contaminated river water drinkable in 1 hour

Researchers have created a new hydrogel tablet that can quickly purify contaminated water.

One tablet can disinfect a liter of river water and make it drinkable in an hour or less.

By some estimates, up to a third of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water, and half of the population could be living in areas of water stress by 2025.

Finding a solution to this problem could save and improve the lives of millions of people and is a high priority for scientists and engineers around the world.

Using the hydrogel tablet to purify water does not require any energy input and does not create harmful by-products. (Credit: UT Austin)

“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,” says Guihua Yu, associate professor in the department. Mechanical Walker from the Cockrell School of Engineering. engineering and the Texas Materials Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

Today, the main way to purify water is by boiling or pasteurizing it. But it takes energy, a lot of time and a lot of work. It is impractical for people in some parts of the world without the resources for these processes.

As stated in Advanced materials, special hydrogels generate hydrogen peroxide to neutralize bacteria at an efficiency rate of over 99.999%. Hydrogen peroxide works with activated carbon particles to attack essential cell components of bacteria and disrupt their metabolism.

The process does not require any energy input and does not create harmful by-products. Hydrogels come off easily and leave no residue.

In addition to purifying water on their own, hydrogels could also improve a process that has been around for thousands of years: solar distillation, the use of sunlight to separate water from harmful contaminants via the vaporization.

Solar distillation systems often run into problems with biofouling, the buildup of microorganisms on the equipment that causes it to malfunction. Bacteria-killing hydrogels can prevent this from happening.

“A very vigilant graduate student, Youhong Guo, discovered these hydrogels unexpectedly while doing something else, namely purifying water with sunlight,” says Keith Johnston, professor in the chemical engineering department, who has co-led the project.

The team is working to improve hydrogels by increasing the different types of pathogens and viruses in the water that they can neutralize. And the team is also in the process of marketing several prototypes.

Scaling hydrogels would be straightforward, the researchers said. The materials for making them are inexpensive, and the synthetic methods are simple and remain so on a large scale. And they can easily control the shape and size of hydrogels, making them flexible for different kinds of uses.

Guo, a graduate student from Yu’s lab, is the first author of the article. Also on the team were graduate students Christopher Dundas in chemical engineering and Xingyi Zhou in mechanical engineering. The Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and the Dreyfus Foundation funded the work.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

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