Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Funded Research Makes Water Purification Breakthrough 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Funded Research Makes Water Purification Breakthrough 

The ability to create clean, safe drinking water using only natural levels of sunlight and inexpensive gel technology could be at hand, thanks to an innovation in water purification.

According to the United Nations, 30,000 people die each week from the consumption and use of unsanitary water. Although the vast majority of these fatalities occur in developing nations, the U.S. is no stranger to unanticipated water shortages, especially after hurricanes, tropical storms and other natural disasters that can disrupt supplies without warning.

Led by Guihua Yu, associate professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, a research team in UT Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering has developed a cost-effective and compact technology using combined gel-polymer hybrid materials. Possessing both hydrophilic (attraction to water) qualities and semiconducting (solar-adsorbing) properties, these 'hydrogels' (networks of polymer chains known for their high water absorbency) enable the production of clean, safe drinking water from any source, whether it's from the oceans or contaminated supplies.

The findings were published in the most recent issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

'We have essentially rewritten the entire approach to conventional solar water evaporation,' Yu said. The Texas Engineering researchers have developed a new hydrogel-based solar vapor generator that uses ambient solar energy to power the evaporation of water for effective desalination. Existing solar steaming technologies used to treat saltwater involve a very costly process that relies on optical instruments to concentrate sunlight. The UT Austin team developed nanostructured gels that require far less energy, only needing naturally occurring levels of ambient sunlight to run while also being capable of significantly increasing the volume of water that can be evaporated...

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