Sustainable Energy

Light work: Getting clean water with nanotech

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Cleaning water with nanotech
Cleaning water with nanotech

Water is crucial to everyone -- and thing -- on the planet. Yet according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.6 million people die every single year from diarrhoeal diseases through a lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation.

The WHO goes on to state that 90 percent of those who die are children under five, the majority living in developing countries.

In light of such a serious problem, tools to purify water are hugely important. Technologies such as chemical treatment can be used to purify water and make it safe.

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Now, Oregon based Puralytics has developed a system that uses "five photochemical processes" that work together to break down and get rid of contaminants from water.

"It uses the light – of either the sun or of LEDs – to activate a nanotechnology mesh which causes five processes at the surface of this mesh," Mark Owen, founder and chief executive of Puralytics, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

"Some of them draw the contaminants into the mesh and then they break apart the contaminants at the molecular level," Owen added.

Products developed by the company include a bag which uses sunlight-activated nanotechnology to destroy contaminants and a floating purifier resembling a lilypad that can improve the water quality of ponds, lakes and tanks. According to the company, one pack of the solar bag costs $99.95, while a pack of 25 costs $1,250.

The company has also developed a solid state water purifier, called the Shield 1000. A single unit of the purifier can produce as much as 4,000 liters of clean water every day, according to Puralytics.

"It is low-energy, because our light source is from LEDs, so we're using only 570 watts of power to clean water and at a rate of 1 liter – up to 2 liters – per minute," Heather Byrne McKenna, a development engineer at Puralytics, said.

"So we can generate… anywhere from 500 gallons to up to a 1,000 gallons of clean, purified water per day," she added.

As well as being a source of life, water is also a considerable source of clean energy. Earlier this year CNBC spoke to Mobile Hydro, the team behind a small, low cost "kinetic hydro power plant" that can be placed in rivers and generate clean, renewable energy.

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Back with Puralytics, their technology is already being used in disaster zones, according to Owen.

"We recently worked with a team who brought the Shield and the Solar bags into Nepal during the earthquake there," he said.

"They ended up providing an entire water treatment system for an entire village in the community there."