Hydrogels provide a new source of clean water
Climate Adaptation

Waterborne diseases are a serious global health issue. According to a report by World Health Organization (WHO) released in 2002, approximately 1.7 deaths occur annually from illnesses related to contaminated water supplies, 90% of which are children from developing countries. Even in developed countries, outbreaks may still arise from water shortages caused by natural disasters. In light of this, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have devised a new gel-polymer hybrid that uses ambient solar energy to filter clean water.


Currently, distillation is the most common method for water purification. The typical solar distillation unit consists of a sewage tank, a clean water tank and a solar steam generator. When the hydrophilic and semiconducting hydrogel is placed in the sewage, it creates water vapor under sunlight and filters out pollutants. The steam generator then pumps vapor into the built-in condenser, which condenses the newly purified water into the clean water tank, where it is now safe to drink. The system has been tested to be able to purify most water sources, including that of the Dead Sea. Roughly 25 liters of clean water can be produced per square meter of hydrogel. The system is intuitive and easy to assemble, and works well in most environments given there is enough sunlight. Researchers found that compared with current distillation equipment, the system consumes less energy, costs less, and does not require large infrastructure. Its convenient assembly makes it more suitable for disaster relief efforts.


While various agencies and institutions have been working on water purification technology in recent years, few have come close to the efficiency achieved by this team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. With waterborne diseases and water shortages continuing to be global health issues, this newly developed hydrogel may hopefully play a practical role in alleviating them.

Sources: Inhabitat , Enviroliteracy