By dipping plain cotton cloth in a high-tech broth full of silver nanowires and carbon nanotubes, Stanford researchers have developed a new high-speed, low-cost filter that could easily be implemented to purify water in the developing world.
Instead of physically trapping bacteria as most existing filters do, the new filter lets them flow on through with the water. But by the time the pathogens have passed through, they have also passed on, because the device kills them with an electrical field that runs through the highly conductive "nano-coated" cotton.
In lab tests, over 98 percent of Escherichia coli bacteria that were exposed to 20 volts of electricity in the filter for several seconds were killed. Multiple layers of fabric were used to make the filter 2.5 inches thick.
"This really provides a new water treatment method to kill pathogens," said Yi Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. "It can easily be used in remote areas where people don't have access to chemical treatments such as chlorine."
Cholera, typhoid and hepatitis are among the waterborne diseases that are a continuing problem in the developing world. Cui said the new filter could be used in water purification systems from cities to small villages.
Filters that physically trap bacteria must have pore spaces small enough to keep the pathogens from slipping through, but that restricts the filters' flow rate.
Since the new filter doesn't trap bacteria, it can have much larger pores, allowing water to speed through at a more rapid rate.
"Our filter is about 80,000 times faster than filters that trap bacteria," Cui said. He is the senior author of a paper describing the research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Nano Letters. The paper is available online now.
The larger pore spaces in Cui's filter also keep it from getting clogged, which is a problem with filters that physically pull bacteria out of the water.
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