Ridding water of tiny concentrations of pollutants isn’t easy. Typically, a lot of energy or chemicals are required to remove these dangerous contaminants – but that could change. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany have come up with an electrochemical process able to pull out toxins like chemical wastes, pharmaceuticals, or pesticides. Their process could help people in developing countries obtain water without those unhealthy compounds.


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The scientists pioneered an electrochemical process able to selectively get rid of organic pollutants, which can be harmful even in minimal amounts. Here’s how it works: small surfaces are coated with Faradaic materials which can become positively or negatively charged after reactions. An electrical source is added to the surfaces, and then as water flows around the materials, the surface materials are tuned to bind with noxious pollutants. Unlike other systems that require either high pressures or high voltages to work, the new way can function at what chemical engineering professor T. Alan Hatton described as relatively benign low voltages and pressures.

Related: Researchers develop solar-powered device to harvest water in the desert

The system could help people in the developing world obtain water free of toxic pollutants. Chemical engineer Xiao Su of MIT, lead author on a paper published recently in Energy and Environmental Science, said in a statement, “Such systems might ultimately be useful for water purification systems in remote areas in the developing world, where pollution from pesticides, dyes, and other chemicals are often an issue in the water supply.”

Su said the system, which is highly efficient, could operate even in rural locations with a little help from solar panels.

MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technical University of Darmstadt, science, chemical engineering, Faradaic materials, electrochemical, electrochemical process, electrochemical method, electrical, electricity, pesticide, pesticides, chemical waste, chemical wastes, pharmaceutical, pharmaceuticals, developing world, developing country, developing countries, water issues, purify water, purifying water

The new method isn’t quite ready to go yet, but mechanical engineer Matthew Suss of Technion Institute of Technology in Israel seems hopeful. He said the system still needs to be tested under real-word conditions and for lengthy periods of time to see if it’s durable, but the prototype “achieved over 500 cycles, which is a highly promising result.”

Via MIT News

Images via Melanie Gonick/MIT and Felice Frankel