Nanotechnology is among the most revolutionary technologies in human history. The water sector can successfully apply this technology to develop more cost-effective and efficient water treatment systems. This cross-cutting research field brings together experts from all disciplines to work towards the improvement of water quality.
Nanotechnology applications in providing potable water
Given the importance of potable water to people in both developed and developing countries, there is a clear need to develop innovative new technologies and materials that can address the challenges associated with the provision of safe potable water.
While one sixth of the world population does not have access to safe water, the reliability of chemical disinfectants, such as chlorine and membrane-based water filtration systems that are currently being used to control microbial pathogens, is in question. The use of nanotechnology, howerver, shows potential in the improvement of water filtration membranes.
This is a significant development, as drinking water contaminated with bacteria and viruses is the main cause of many diseases in development countries. The production of nanofibre membranes is one of the greatest breakthroughs in the water treatment industry especially because of the structural properties of these fibres. The fibres have a high surface area which allows a higher adsorption rate of various trace organics and bacteria for improving water quality; a higher acid/basic and temperature resistance; environmental friendliness, and longer membrane life span and flexibility which enables the membrane to be formed into various membrane modules for larger commercial application.
The research focuses on developing functionalised nanofibre membranes to obtain antimicrobial and antifouling properties and applying the technology to develop low cost water treatment systems. Nanofibres are produced by a simple, rapid and inexpensive method namely electrospinning. Nanobiocides such as metal nanoparticles and engineered nanomaterials have been successfully incorporated into nanofibres showing high antimicrobial activity against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. The incorporation of these nanofibres into filters for decentralised water purification is currently being investigated.