By Emily Newton
Water is essential to human life — so much so that the United Nations suggests clean water access is a fundamental human right. The ultimate goal is for all countries to provide clean water to their citizens. Unfortunately, billions of people every year lack access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.1
With the fourth industrial revolution underway, it’s possible that new water sanitation systems and tech can help bring people clean water efficiently. Take a deep dive into water sanitation and learn which technologies will play a role in providing water to communities that need it most.
Understanding The Clean Water Crisis
According to the World Health Organization, more than 2 billion people live in communities with little to no clean water.2 As populations grow and feel the effects of climate change, this figure is expected to increase rapidly. Around the world, far too many people use contaminated water, posing a great risk to their health and their community’s safety.
Access to safe and sufficient hygiene facilities allows people to practice good hygiene, reducing the risk of diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infections, and tropical diseases. Contaminated drinking water can transmit serious illnesses like cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and polio. It is clear that safe drinking water is a core element of a healthy community, yet so many struggle to access it.
Aside from communities in low- or middle-income countries, virtually all industrialized countries require water for numerous purposes. For example, state and federal governments regulate many companies across industries. These organizations must meet clean water standards — in addition to cleaning and hygiene requirements3 — in order to remain operational.
Additionally, environmental disasters and emergencies can exacerbate the chronic lack of clean water. In order to prevent the spread of disease, people need to have safe access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities for appropriate waste containment.
7 Advanced Water Sanitation System Technologies
In recent years, new technologies have made it possible to improve clean water access and sanitation services for people worldwide. Of course, more work is necessary to ensure everyone can access clean water for several reasons, but these water sanitation systems are a good step in the right direction. Take a look at some of the tech bringing people clean water efficiently.
1. Solar-Powered Water Filtration
Researchers at Princeton University developed a Solar Absorber Gel people can apply to contaminated water3. This solar gel absorbs water at room temperature, but it changes shape and releases the water when heated. It has a second layer consisting of polydopamine, which can transform the sun’s energy into heat. The third layer is made of alginate.
When water passes through the gel, it purifies by filtering out pathogens, metals, and other molecules from the water. The device uses a passive gravity-based filtration method. As a result, it only requires power from the sun to work properly. Additionally, the device can deliver clean water much more quickly than some of the other advanced water treatment technologies.
2. Desalination Systems
The desalination process is highly popular, especially in countries in the Middle East. In the desalination process, salt from saltwater is extracted to obtain freshwater, which can be used for several purposes. Current desalination processes are energy-intensive, but recent advancements have led to significant reductions in energy consumption.
One method researchers and engineers have used to decrease energy usage is increasing the size of the membranes used to desalinate water.4 Instead of using 8-inch membranes, desalination plants use 16-inch membranes with smaller pores and four times the active area. This lowers the cost of operating and maintaining the treatment plant while increasing the amount of water processed.
Countries can use various nanotechnology-based water purification systems as cost-effective, efficient solutions to provide water for those who need it. Nanotechnology can remove contaminants in water efficiently to increase the availability of water. In simple terms, it manipulates the atoms in water on a molecular level. Nanotechnology can assist with several water purification processes, including:
- Water treatment
One of the most common water purification techniques in the nanotech space is the carbon nanotube (CNT).5 CNT-based filtration systems remove organic, inorganic, and biological compounds from water to make it safe for drinking.
4. Bioaugmentation for Wastewater Treatment
It is well-known that wastewater is a significant source of water pollution. Not only can wastewater treatment result in synthetic fertilizer for the agriculture industry,6 but it can transform into drinking water for consumption. One of the most popular methods of treating wastewater is bioaugmentation. With this technology, scientists introduce a mix of microorganisms to the liquid, which breaks down and removes any contaminants.
The microorganisms typically consist of enzymes and certain types of safe bacteria that degrade pollutants like oils or carbon substrates.7 However, the scientists must implement a multi-step process during bioaugmentation — they must safely remove the microorganisms after they treat the wastewater.
5. Acoustic Nanotube Tech
NASA first developed acoustic nanotube technology, which served as a solution for treating and recycling wastewater in the International Space Station. However, the technology has various purposes here on Earth. Rather than pressure pushing contaminants out of water, this technology relies on acoustics to drive water through carbon nanotubes.
Carbon nanotubes are placed within a filter matrix, where water molecules pass through and contaminants stay behind. The acoustic system uses an oscillator circuit to generate an acoustic vibration, which encourages the water molecules to de-bond and move through the filter for purification.8
6. Photocatalytic Water Purification
Another type of tech that helps provide people with water is photocatalytic water purification. The technology uses photocatalyst and ultraviolet rays to rid water of toxic substances and contaminants at high speeds.
Photocatalysis with mild conditions is a simple process and is considered a green technology, making it cost-effective and sustainable.9 The process can take water and remove substances such as pesticides, microbes, viruses, dyes, crude oil, and more.
7. Automatic Variable Filtration
Automatic variable filtration (AVF) is a water purification technology that is relatively simple yet effective — it works when an upward flow of influent is cleaned through a downward flow of filter media. One of the most significant benefits is the water does not require additional filtration or cleaning.
The AVF method does not have any moving parts or require power, which makes it a cost-effective and energy-efficient system. The tech is suitable for wastewater treatment and reuse, municipal drinking water, and pre-filtration and desalination uses.
Leveraging Water Sanitation Systems to Improve the Freshwater Crisis
As mentioned earlier, water is an essential aspect of life, yet a growing number of people do not have regular access to it. Because the water crisis is becoming such a concern for countries worldwide, global companies are trying to find innovative ways to treat water for sanitation and hygiene purposes.
The issues of climate change and rapid population growth are only going to exacerbate the clean water crisis, therefore requiring more innovation in this field. Continue monitoring what new technologies emerge to help with wastewater treatment, sanitation, and hygiene, and how they ultimately help people live more comfortably.
- “Achieving Clean Water and Safe Sanitation for All.” United Nations, https://www.un.org/en/desa/achieving-clean-water-and-safe-sanitation-all.
- “Drinking-water.” World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water.
- “Cleaning & Sanitation.” AquaPhoenix Scientific, https://www.aquaphoenixsci.com/markets/cleaning-and-sanitation/.
- Xu, Xiaohui et al. “A Bioinspired Elastic Hydrogel for Solar-Driven Water Purification.” Advanced materials (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) vol. 33,18 (2021): e2007833. doi:10.1002/adma.202007833
- “How Technology Is Providing Solutions for Clean Water.” Ohio University, 2 Mar. 2021, https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/how-technology-is-providing-solutions-for-clean-water/.
- “Latest water purification technologies — top five.” Water Technology, 5 Feb. 2021, https://www.water-technology.net/features/latest-water-purification-technologies-top-five/.
- Newton, Emily. “Transforming Wastewater into Fertilizer Could Make Agriculture More Sustainable.” Revolutionized, 4 Feb. 2023, https://revolutionized.com/transforming-wastewater-into-fertilizer/.
- Nichlols, Megan R. “Five Innovative Technologies Improving Pharmaceutical Wastewater Treatment.” EuroScientist, 27 Apr. 2020, https://www.euroscientist.com/five-innovative-technologies-improving-pharmaceutical-wastewater-treatment/.
- Kosowatz, John. “Three Advances in Water Purification. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.asme.org/topics-resources/content/three-advances-in-water-purification.
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. Emily is also editor in chief of Revolutionized (revolutionized.com).