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Water/Waste Processing e-News / Drinking Water

Researchers develop solar-powered filter for antibiotics in water

May 10, 2013
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University of Cincinnati
The University of Cincinnati scientists that worked on the project stated that the nano filters could have a dramatic effect on the health of waterway ecosystems.

A new solar-powered nano filter that is capable of removing antibiotics and dangerous carcinogens from large bodies of water has been developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati. A report published in the journal Nano Letters claims that the innovative technology is more effective than the current technology involving activated carbon.

According to David Wendell, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Cincinnati, the filter consists of two bacterial proteins that are able to absorb about two-thirds of the antibiotics present in surface waters, compared with the 40 percent that is absorbed by current technology. The filters are in the shape of tiny spheres, each of them smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These can be released into waterways and can capture antibiotics while floating in rivers, the university said.

A significant proportion of the world's waterways are polluted with antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, among other forms of pollution, and tools that can be used to address this problem are more than welcome. The presence of excessive amounts of antibiotics in waterways can be harmful to microorganisms that play a crucial role in local ecosystems. In addition, they contribute to the appearance of new strains of bacteria and large numbers of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Apart from purifying water from antibiotics, the technology also allows the reuse of these antibiotics after they have been captured by the sphere, increasing its sustainability properties.

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The University of Cincinnati scientists that worked on the project stated that the nano filters could have a dramatic effect on the health of waterway ecosystems and on human health as well. Wendell pointed out that the filters actually make use of one of the elements that helps bacteria to cause harm -- a protein pump, called AcrB. The pump is essentially a selective garbage disposal for the bacteria but, thanks to the technology, this system is reversed so that the "garbage" is pumped into the proteovesicles. However, the process is only possible in the presence of sunlight.

Wendell said that so far the technology has proved to be an effective, reliable and environmentally friendly method of removing antibiotics from surface water but it could also be a cost-effective method to recover and reuse antibiotics. Researchers are now working on ways to allow the technology to filter hormones and heavy metals from water, he noted.

If the team manages to develop a method to capture heavy metals from surface waters, they could potentially resolve one of the most serious pollution problems in many parts of the world. While many people typically associate heavy metal pollution with heavily industrialized areas, it is a growing problem. Automobiles are among the most common causes of heavy metal pollution and such substances are more frequently being found in waterways, so developing a simple and cost-effective method to remove them from surface water would be extremely useful, especially in developing countries.

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