Scientists from UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a new hydrogel tablet that they say can rapidly purify contaminated water.
According to the team led by associate professor Guihua Yu, one tablet alone is enough to disinfect a liter of river water and make it suitable for drinking in an hour or less.
This should make it a boon for a third of the world’s population that don’t have access to clean drinking water.
“Our multifunctional hydrogel can make a big difference in mitigating global water scarcity because it is easy to use, highly efficient and potentially scalable up to mass production,” says Yu.
According to the scientists, their special hydrogels generate hydrogen peroxide to neutralize bacteria at an efficiency rate of more than 99.999%.
The hydrogen peroxide works with activated carbon particles to attack essential cell components of bacteria and disrupt their metabolism.
The process requires zero energy input and doesn’t create harmful byproducts. Moreover, the hydrogels can easily be removed, and they don’t leave any residue.
In addition to purifying water on their own, the hydrogels could also improve a process that has been around for thousands of years – solar distillation.
According to the scientists, solar distillation systems often run into issues of biofouling, the accumulation of microorganisms on equipment that causes it to malfunction.
The bacteria-killing hydrogels – discovered and pioneered by Youhong Guo, a graduate student in Yu’s lab, prevents this from happening.
The scientists are currently working on improving the hydrogels’ scope of neutralizing different types of pathogens and viruses in water.
They are also in the process of commercializing several prototypes.
Image and content: Cockrell School of Engineering-UT Austin