Friday, July 30, 2010

Nano-water Now?

"While the current generation of nanofilters may be relatively simple, it is believed that future generations of nanotechnology-based water treatment devices will capitalize on the properties of new nanoscale materials." --- Dr Mahapatra

The ice caps are melting, sending the planet's greatest freshwater reserves into the salty oceans. Half our world is getting flood levels of rain while the other half is increasingly seared by drought. More people suffer thirst, and diseases associated with bad water and sanitation, than ever in the history of mankind.

Nothing, arguably, is more essential for basic good health than clean water. The health of mankind depends upon sustainable supplies in the future.

Now, a research paper (published in the "International Journal of Nuclear Desalination", of all places), gives hope for a world increasingly desperate for potable human drinking water.

Researchers at the D.J. Sanghvi College of Engineering, in Mumbai, India, have identified several nanotechnology approaches to water purification. These are not daydreams. Several are already underway.

Dr Alpana Mahapatra and colleagues Dr Farida Valli and Dr Karishma Tijoriwala, made this statement: "Water treatment devices that incorporate nanoscale materials are already available, and human development needs for clean water are pressing."

How, you ask? The scientists say that water purification by nanotechnology can exploit nanoscopic materials to remove impurities. New technology such as carbon nanotubes and alumina fibers do the nanofiltration. Also, nanoscopic pores in zeolite filtration membranes, nanocatalysts, and magnetic nanoparticles can be employed. Already, nanosensors (titanium oxide nanowires or palladium nanoparticles) detect water supply contaminants.

The scientists said that the impurities that nanotechnology removes include sediments, chemical effluents, charged particles, bacteria and other pathogens. Toxic trace elements such as arsenic, and viscous liquid impurities such as oil can also be removed using nanotechnology.

"The main advantages of using nanofilters, as opposed to conventional systems, are that less pressure is required to pass water across the filter, they are more efficient, and they have incredibly large surface areas and can be more easily cleaned by back-flushing compared with conventional methods."

If this nanotechnology can be employed on a vast scale, what would be the environmental consequences? The health consequences?

We all know that these kinds of seemingly miraculous solutions can become Pandora's Boxes, and many have backfired many times before.

But if it did work, without consequences, a sustainable freshwater supply could end the suffering of billions of people worldwide!

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