Algae Filter Paper Offers New Hope for Stopping Waterborne Illness
Kyle Maxey posted on August 25, 2019 |
A newly developed algal filter could reduce the spread of disease in poorer countries.

Paper filter made from Pithophora algae (Image Courtesy of Uppsala University.)

Paper filter made from Pithophora algae (Image Courtesy of Uppsala University.)

An international team of engineers has created an algae-based point-of-use water filtration paper that could dramatically reduce the number of pathogens carried in vulnerable water supplies.

Having access to safe drinking water is an essential part of a healthy society. In many parts of the world water, supplies still remain a vector for disease that can cripple populations and economies. While there are numerous methods for delivering clean water to people, public infrastructure programs that do so are often expensive to implement and riddled with confusing logistics. However, a new filtration system developed between Uppsala University, Sweden and Dhaka University, Bangladesh, might upend the economics and viability of delivering safe drinking water to at-risk communities.

Built using the cellulose nano-fibers found in the green macroalgae Pithophora, the new filter is nothing more than a sheet of paper that can remove both virus and bacterial contaminants from water as it passes through the filter membrane.

“Pithophora algae have been largely overlooked in the past as a valuable raw material,” said Albert Mihranyan, professor of Nanotechnology at Uppsala University, who heads the study. “It is with great satisfaction that we can now document excellent pathogen removal clearance for both waterborne bacteria and viruses with efficiency above 99.999 percent. It can purify even the smallest virus particles of 27-28 nanometers.”

With a population of 168 million people, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world. When combined with its tropical location and lack of modern infrastructure, these factors can lead to the rapid outbreak of disease, especially waterborne illnesses. 

Researchers believe that their new device, which can be easily distributed and installed on public water sources and private taps, could dramatically decrease the incidence of disease.

“Access to clean water will contribute strongly to improved health, thus reducing poverty,” said Khondkar Siddique-e-Rabbani of University of Dhaka and project coordinator in Bangladesh. “We are optimistic that through future development of devices, the filter paper produced from the locally growing algae will be useful to prevent potentially deadly waterborne diseases and improve the quality of life for millions of people.”

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