According to the United Nations, over a third of the global population still does not have access to clean drinking water. Almost one million people die each year from water-borne diseases due to a lack of clean drinking water.
Climate change is only going to exacerbate the problem. By the year 2050, at least 50 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in “water-stressed” areas. Access to safe water is one of the biggest contributors to the improved health of a population.
Therefore, finding immediate solutions for people in poorer countries to get easy access to clean drinking water is of paramount importance.
Several innovations have been made in the last few decades to filter water from natural sources and make it safe for human consumption. Many of these solutions have had pitfalls that prevent them from being used at scale. There are a number of problems with these products, such as manufacturing difficulty, cost-inefficiency, and so on.
The University of Texas has developed a new technique that we believe will become the world’s long-term solution to water scarcity. The technique appears to avoid the pitfalls of countless previous approaches.
In a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, the researchers have demonstrated a hydrogel tablet that can rapidly purify contaminated water. Each tablet, the size of a one-rupee coin, can purify up to a liter of contaminated water within an hour or less.
The hydrogel tablet is easy to produce and requires no energy. Credit: The University of Texas at Austin.
According to Guihua Yu, lead author of the paper and professor at the Texas Materials Institute and the Cockrell School of Engineering, “our multifunctional hydrogel can significantly reduce global water scarcity since it is easy to use, highly efficient, and potentially scalable up to mass production.”
Using the hydrogel tablets, hydrogen peroxide is generated, which kills bacteria in the water by disrupting their metabolism and attacking essential components of the cells.
They are easy to produce, require no energy or by-products to purify, and do not produce any harmful substances. Because of this, they are easy to scale and can be used globally and in large quantities.
Besides purifying water from bacteria, researchers say the hydrogels could also improve solar distillation and remove harmful contaminants through vaporization.