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We live in a time of urgency. Quite simply, we need to be innovating new solutions in order to achieve a more positive, more sustainable world for all of us. Water treatment is at the heart of this, and clean water technology is helping communities to achieve a more reliable supply of potable water for today, tomorrow, and far into the future.

Fortunately, innovations in sustainable water treatment technology are driving us forward. The world’s scientists are rising to the challenge and delivering us technologies that are changing our relationship with clean water. Read on to discover more about some of the latest examples of game-changing tech in the industry.

UV Drinking Water Disinfection

Sustainable water treatment is going to be a key scientific battleground over the coming years, as researchers strive to provide a growing global population with clean, safe drinking water for the future. Clean water technology — such as disinfecting technology for drinking water — is likely to lead the way here, becoming increasingly efficient and effective as understanding advances.

Disinfecting drinking water using ultraviolet light is nothing new, but it has been difficult to achieve on a larger scale. In 2021, a team from the UK made an enormous breakthrough when they launched the world’s first municipal-scale UV drinking water treatment plant. The Cumwhinton Drinking Water Plant in the Cumbria region of northwest England utilizes UVC-LED devices that emit electromagnetic energy at just the right frequency and wavelength, denaturing and eliminating microbes and other harmful elements that may be found in the sample. As this technology becomes more affordable, and easier to roll out at scale, we can expect to see UV water disinfection become increasingly common in municipal plants across the world.

Pseudocapacitive Electrodes for Water Softening

Hard water — i.e., water that is too rich in calcium and magnesium ions — can cause significant problems. Pipework and boilers become blocked and clogged with limescale when exposed to hard water, equipment may become damaged, and water may even become unsuitable for human consumption at higher hardness levels. This is why so much focus has been placed on the development of effective water softening processes. When we consider how abundant hard water really is, we can begin to understand the true extent of this problem — around 85% of accessible freshwater around the world is believed to be hard water.

Recent research from China appears to be leading the way in water softening innovation for 2021 and beyond. A team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences — specifically the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science in Anhui province — has been working on a new type of electrode to be used in the electrolysis of hard water samples. During electrolysis, a current is passed between two electrodes — a negatively charged anode and a positively charged cathode — and charged ions in the sample are attracted to each point. This is a useful means of removing the positively charged calcium and magnesium ions that commonly cause hard water.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences team has developed a pseudocapacitive electrode that improves this water softening process. Utilizing pseudocapacitive materials, the team produced an electrode that can selectively target hard water ions with a high degree of accuracy, giving users more control over the process and reducing the high costs often associated with electrolysis projects.

Fluorescent Identification of Cryptosporidium Microbes

Cryptosporidium microbes can cause severe illness if they are ingested into the gastrointestinal system, and infection can even be fatal in some cases. With this in mind, scientists are hard at work to combat the spread of cryptosporidium in water sources, and to keep individuals and communities safe from this parasitic illness.

One of the latest developments in the field has come from Professor Ewa Goldys’s research. Professor Goldys and her team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have identified the tell-tale proteins that sit within the structure of the cryptosporidium microbe. These proteins can be detected and flagged with a fluorescent marking agent. Using the CRISPR gene-editing technology, the team was able to pinpoint this part of the microbial structure and have developed an additive that will bind to this protein in a chemical reaction.

It is this chemical reaction that takes place during the binding that makes all the difference. This reaction changes the chemical makeup of the water sample. When the fluorescent agent is added, this chemical change reveals a color tag that tells observers whether or not the microbes are present in the sample. The testing is quick, inexpensive, and could be highly effective in protecting public health on a mass scale.

Advanced Polymer Filtration

Water filtration has long been used as a means to protect individuals and communities from waterborne diseases. However, the technology has not always been up to scratch, and filtration has sometimes been viewed as a less than exact science.

In 2021, this is changing, thanks to the development and deployment of new, advanced filter technology. A team from the Tufts University School of Engineering has been working on a new type of polymer that can be used to create highly effective filtration membranes. The membranes are designed to separate fluoride from chloride, as well as other ions.

With the right approach to engineering and design, these polymer membranes can be tailored to meet specific purposes, selectively removing specific ions from water sources. One potential application for this is found in removing fluoride from drinking water, eliminating the danger of fluoride toxicity for communities around the world.

Ongoing Innovation in Clean Water Technology

As we look back on 2021, we can consider this year a positive one for sustainable water treatment. There have been a number of significant advances in the field of clean water technology, each of which is bringing us closer to a brighter future, both in terms of social and ecological sustainability. Looking forward to 2022, however, we can see that the pace of innovation cannot let up. The situation is still an urgent one, and we can expect to see plenty more technological innovations over the next 12 months.