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Cheap Water Purification Technology Developed In Switzerland May Solve Flint Water Crisis

Swiss scientists presented a cheap water purification process that remove water impurities by up to 99 percent and could solve the Flint water crisis. For at least a year, high levels of lead have contaminated Flint's water supply affecting over 100,000 residents, including children.

The proposed technology is pretty straightforward. The new purification process uses a paper-like membrane that is packed with processed milk proteins and carbon that absorb radioactive waste, heavy metals and other industrial byproducts. The prototype was successful in lab tests at the Switzerland's Mezzenga lab in ETH Zurich. The real challenge now is to see if the prototype will stand the tests of real-life settings. Moreover, if it can be produced inexpensively in a bigger scale.

Swiss scientist Raffaele Mezzenga worked on the two-year research that was published in the Nature Nanotechnology journal on Jan. 25. The debut is timely as it could help solve the lead pollution disaster that struck Flint, Michigan.

Apart from lead, the Flint water crisis also left residents at risk of contaminating E. coli, Legionnaires' disease and other life-threatening chemicals. With no current solution, people are forced to rely on expensive bottled water or personally installed water filters, which are even more expensive.

Mezzenga said that a kilogram of the paper-like membrane costs around $100 to produce. This amount is enough to filter more than the estimated amount of water one individual could drink his entire life.

The prototype requires a vacuum to get the water through the filter and this could be done using a conventional hand pump. The production could also begin in just a few months.

"It can be used basically anywhere. It's very cheap, and very fast," said Mezzenga.

Mezzenga and his research partner Sreenath Bolisetty own the new technology's patent. They have received calls from several companies across industries but none from Flint.

However, Rice University's civil and environmental engineering professor Qilin Li doubts that the proteins in Mezzenga's prototype can last a long time when subjected to more intense microbial and biological settings. Li also raised questions about the commercialization of the technology, saying it's hard to guess how much money will be spent in manufacturing and distributing the commercialized filters.

Still, Li acknowledged the technology's ability to remove an impressionable amount of pollutant, adding that it is the most exciting aspect of the study.

Photo: Mark Lee | Flickr

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