Microscopic images of E. coli before (left) and after disinfection. The bacteria died quickly after sunlight produced chemicals that caused serious damage to the bacterial cell membranes, as shown in the red circles. (Image credit: Tong Wu/Stanford University)

Generating Hydrogen Peroxide For Disinfecting Water Using A Solar-Driven Catalyst

Ensuring that water is safe to use and consume can be a real chore, especially for those who live in impoverished areas without access to safe drinking water. Here is where researchers at Stanford University hope that their recently developed low-cost catalyst can make a difference. This catalyst comes in the form of nano-sized particles (nanoflakes) consisting out aluminium oxide, molybdenum sulfide, copper and iron oxide. When exposed to sunlight,  the catalyst performs like a photon-sensitive semiconductor/metal junction (Cu-MoS2), with the dislodged electrons going on to react with the surrounding water, resulting in the formation of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hydroxy radicals.

Disinfectant powder is stirred in bacteria-contaminated water (upper left). The mixture is exposed to sunlight, which rapidly kills all the bacteria (upper right). A magnet collects the metallic powder after disinfection (lower right). The powder is then reloaded into another beaker of contaminated water, and the disinfection process is repeated (lower left). (Image credit: Tong Wu/Stanford University)

Waterborne diseases are very common, with even the US reporting 7,000 deaths and 120,000 hospitalizations in 2021, according to the US CDC, and many more affected worldwide. Much of the harm is done by microbes, in particular bacteria such as E. coli, which are prolific in aquatic environments. By using this catalyst powder in contaminated water, the researchers reported that the Escherichia coli colonies in the tested samples were fully eradicated after a 60 second exposure to sunlight.

The reason for this is that hydrogen peroxide and similar reactive oxygen species are highly destructive to living cells, yet they are simultaneously very safe. Because of their high reactivity they are very unstable and thus short-lived. This is useful when the water with the now very dead microbes is consumed afterwards, with the catalyst itself being ferromagnetic and thus easily separated using a magnet.

With this proof of concept in hand, it’d be interesting to see what the product will look like, especially when it comes to the final separation step and making this as easy as possible. Since the catalyst is not consumed or presumably contaminated, it can last pretty much forever, making it an attractive alternative to water purification tablets and expensive filtration systems.

(Heading image: Microscopic images of E. coli before (left) and after disinfection. The bacteria died quickly after sunlight produced chemicals that caused serious damage to the bacterial cell membranes, as shown in the red circles. (Image credit: Tong Wu/Stanford University) )

Open-Source Water Quality Tester

Open-Source Water Quality Tester

Contaminated water is a huge problem in many third-world countries. Impure water leads to many serious health problems, especially in children. Installing a water purification system seems like a simple solution to this problem, but choosing the right purification system depends on the level of contaminants in the water.

Water turbidity testers are often used to measure the severity of water contamination. Unfortunately most commercial water turbidity testers are very expensive, so [Wijnen, Anzalone, and Pearce] set out to develop a much more affordable open-source tester. Their tester performs just as well as commercial units, but costs 7-15 times less.

The open-source water tester was designed in OpenSCAD and 3d printed. It houses an Arduino with a custom shield that measures the frequency from several TSL235R light-to-frequency converters. An LED illuminates the water and the sensors measure how much light is diffused and reflected off of particles in the water. Another sensor measures the brightness of the LED as a baseline reference. The turbidity of the water is calculated from the brightness values, and is displayed on a character LCD. More details about the tester are included in a fairly extensive paper.

[Thanks Andrew]

Water Purification Uses Home-built Electrolysis Rig

If you plan ahead a little bit you could have your own system of water purification to use in emergencies. Everyone needs clean drinking water and this gadget will let your produce your own purification drops quite easily.

The solution contains chlorine, which is created through electrolysis. The PVC cap seen near the bottom of the image has two electrodes sticking out of it. These are titanium plated mesh plates separated by a rubber ring. The cap has a small hole in it to keep the flow rate low and the fitting at the top acts as a funnel. When you pour in a salt water mixture it passes through the energized plates and a chemical reaction splits the sodium from the chlorine.

A twelve volt power source is necessary for this to work. But since the electrolytic process takes just a minute or two you could easily source the power from batteries charged with solar cells. Check out a full build walk through and demonstration video after the break.

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