People have shown a growing interest in finding more sustainable ways to achieve their water purification goals. Biotechnology advancements have enabled significant progress. Here’s some of what’s possible.

Steam generation identified as a viable option

A significant amount of the population lacks access to clean drinking water. Moreover, even people who usually have ongoing access may need to change their behaviors due to droughts. Scientists are particularly interested in options for purifying wastewater to help people around the world stay sufficiently hydrated.

A team at Linköping University found that using organic materials such as cellulose to make a high-efficiency steam generator can purify and desalinate wastewater. It includes a polymer that absorbs sunlight to assist with the water purification process.

“What’s particularly nice about this system is that all the materials are eco-friendly – we use nanocellulose and a polymer that has a very low impact on the environment and people. We also use very small amounts [of] material: the aerogel is made up of 90% air. We hope and believe that our results can help the millions of people who don’t have access to clean water,” said Simone Fabiano, who worked on the project.

Efforts to reuse water don’t just benefit humans, though. They also help wildlife by reducing the amount of freshwater taken from ecosystems under threat.


Businesses with cooling towers pursue chemical-free, energy-saving methods

Many industrial organizations rely on cooling towers within their operations. It’s generally best practice to perform maintenance twice a year, or potentially more often if buildup accumulation warrants it. However, recommended maintenance measures are starting to change in favor of options that don’t require so much dependence on chemicals.

Decision-makers in cities such as Los Angeles, California, and Savannah, Georgia, have used electrolysis in their cooling tower maintenance. This method eliminates chemicals in most cases. It also saves 20-50% of the water consumption while cutting wastewater and sewage discharge rates. Besides helping curb biological growth in the water, electrolysis aids in removing scale and minimizing corrosion.

In another instance, researchers looked at the viability of using high-pH conditioning to manage Legionella pneumophila in a cooling tower containing demineralized water. The results showed that keeping the pH level above 9.6 was an effective way to control pathogen growth.


Researchers take inspiration from nature for creative purification methods

Scientists and engineers often find the natural world bursting with potential as they look for new water purification methods. Consider, for instance, how a team from The University of Texas at Austin used a rose’s structure to guide their development of a new system that both collects and cleanses the liquid.

More specifically, they created a solar-steaming system with layered paper sheets arranged like petals. The technology also features a stem-like tube used to pull water into the system for purification. The results indicated each flower-like structure could produce a half-gallon of water per hour per square meter.

In another case, researchers grew water filters from kombucha cultures. The outcomes showed that the living membranes were more resistant to fouling and clogging than traditional options. Additionally, people can tweak them to remove particles of various sizes. These new filtration options even had self-healing properties.

Elsewhere, an MIT team learned that pine and ginkgo trees have xylem conduits that suck water up through the tree’s trunk and branches. They created low-tech filters from peeled sections of branches. Tests showed they removed contaminants such as E. coli and rotavirus, leading researchers to say their discovery could be instrumental in giving people access to clean water in places where more advanced filtration systems are not yet available.


Biotechnology pushes water filtration forward

Figuring out the most effective ways to filter water can be tricky. That’s partially because there are so many goals to meet. Perhaps a company that needs water filtration is within an industry that has especially stringent regulations for contaminant removal. People also often choose options that are cost-effective but able to meet the desired performance goals.

But, as these examples show, there’s no reason to rule out sustainability when looking at new and improved options for purifying water. It can be a priority, especially when biotechnology is at the heart of the possibilities pursued.