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Water Purifier Harnesses Nanotechnology

Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Leonidas Bachas, Ph.D., and Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D.
University of Kentucky
NIEHS Grant P42ES007380

Scientists at the University of Kentucky with support from the NIEHS Superfund Research Program have invented a water purifier that degrades chemical toxins without the addition of acids or other harmful chemicals. The device employs nanotechnology to generate hydroxyl radicals and could be used to provide safe, clean drinking water for the developing world and the U.S.

Two-thirds of all hazardous waste sites in the U.S. are contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE). Along with trichlorophenol, TCE is responsible for drinking water contamination in much of the world. To remove these chemicals from drinking water is costly and requires the use of acids and other hazardous chemicals in large amounts. The Kentucky investigators first mix glucose with contaminated water and then let it pass through a nanostructured membrane embedded with glucose oxidase, an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide from glucose. A second membrane containing iron trapped in an acidic matrix converts the peroxide into hydroxyl radicals which interact with and destroy the organic pollutants.

The investigators are currently filing for patents for the technology. The device could represent a major step forward in providing clean drinking water inexpensively in areas of the world where chemical contamination is prevalent.

Citation: Lewis SR, Datta S, Gui M, Coker EL, Huggins FE, Daunert S, Bachas L, Bhattacharyya D. Reactive nanostructured membranes for water purification. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 May 24;108(21):8577-82.


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